The Fishwife at Moeraki: Fresh fish and crays in the bay

Josie Stanford

05:00, Jul 28 2021

Lydia R Cook

Owner John Pile sells crayfish not good enough to export at the Fishwife.

John Pile and partner Nicky have transformed a patch of gravel at Moeraki into a destination, al fresco dining experience.

The pair opened upmarket fish and chip stand, The Fishwife, two years ago. Their shop has views over the bay at Moeraki, and serves portions of local blue cod and crayfish, pāua from the Chatham Islands and, of course, chips. They use a separate deep-fryer for gluten-free batters.

Motivated by difficulties in grading crayfish, John, a fourth-generation fisherman, realised he could make a better margin with a shop.

“If a crayfish has two legs and an aerial [a feeler] missing, it’s condemned from being sold for export at $40-$60 down to $20 on the domestic market, and we only get a small amount of profit from it. The public doesn’t worry about a missing leg or broken feeler.”

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“So our grading [standards are] very high, and our prices stay way above average. We export our best crayfish and put our graded-out product through the shop, and get a premium price at this end as well. It works.”

When Covid hit just six months after they opened, the fishery suffered but the shop thrived.

“Post lockdown, New Zealanders were being encouraged to travel, so many people discovered us ... and became repeat customers,” John says.

Lydia R Cook

The mural on the shopfront was painted by Dunedin artists Jonathan Waters and Sam Ovens.

“We open about 10am. In the winter we close about 5pm-6pm, in the summer, 7pm-7.30pm. On a busy Sunday, there might be a 40-minute peak time wait between 12.30pm and 2pm.

“Many of our regulars will pre-order because we will sell out of crayfish. By the end of a busy day, we’ll have sold 40-50 crayfish and served [more than] 200 meals.

“Nicky takes the orders, and I do a lot of the cooking and all of the fish prep.

“We’ve got salt water in the shop. No fresh water goes near our fish. Zero. You won’t taste fish like this anywhere else. Everyone says it. The crayfish comes straight off the boat into a circulating tank. It’s all steamed.”

The Fishwife’s home is made from two containers. Nicky commissioned Dunedin artists Jonathan Waters and Sam Ovens to paint a large mural, and John built a steampunk-inspired hand-washing station with a crane that came off the wharf in Oamaru where he used to fish as a boy.

With crayfish pots as tables, it makes for a good ambiance. And, of course, there’s the product. “The crayfish look fantastic in our shop window with their vibrant colour and interesting shape.”

John said the fishery was in good shape. “Two crayfish boats and one charter work out of here. The fish numbers have come back. There’s only two commercial boats in this village now. Fishing is good.

“Crayfish is good, but the Kiwi thing is blue cod and chips.”

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