Love a good story about resilience and overcoming adversity? Meet Lester Marshall.
Lester established the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm in 1997, one of the very first oyster farms on the Lower Eyre Peninsula. Lester has also been instrumental in putting the Eyre Peninsula on the map, developing the region’s reputation as Australian’s seafood frontier.
At one point, the farm was producing up to 330 tonnes of oysters every year for distribution to national and international wholesale markets. Then a challenging series of events – or “headwinds”, as Lester says – hit the business: First came a shortage of supply (spat, or young oysters) due to an outbreak of disease in Tasmania. Next came trade difficulties with China, which had been one of the farm’s major markets, that led to a ban on Australian products.
And then there was COVID.
COVID lockdowns and the lost sales to restaurants and hotel chains meant the company had to downsize, lay off most of their staff and figure out a way to survive. Compounding an already-difficult situation the SA oyster industry then suffered a complete shut down in late 2021 due to an outbreak of gastro.
“I think the word they use today is, you learn to be ‘nimble’,” says Lester.
So, Lester diversified. In 2021, he opened a retail outlet where he could sell direct to consumers. This meant going from 3-4 business customers to potentially thousands of customers.
It meant a great deal of work – as well as help from partners including Accru Harris Orchard – but it was Lester’s longstanding goal. And in a way, COVID was the “pearl” that pushed everything forward to make this happen.
Now, the Coffin Bay Seafood Centre is open for business in Port Wakefield, offering online (click and collect) and in-person sales of seafood. The store has taken off, has partnered with other seafood outlets to offer specials and is gaining rave reviews from customers.
To learn more about Coffin Bay Oysters and their journey, check out their video below: