Rikki Hillman – Mother, Wife and 3rd Generation Commercial Fisher

2018 was a big year for Rikki Hillman. The young mother recently gave birth to beautiful baby girl and became the owner of an Exmouth Beach Seine commercial fishing licence given to her by her 90-year-old granddad. She looks forward to the challenge of going full-time in the role – foreseeing new priorities and opportunities for the family’s generational business. But most importantly, she sees this as a wonderful experience for her little girl to grow up on the beach – just like she did.

“My grandfather ended up moving to Exmouth in 1973 with his wife and four kids – dad being the youngest.”

Three generations: John W Melvin(L), John R Melvin (R) and Rikki Hillman (Centre)

“He used to fish all across Exmouth including Wapet Creek, Bay of Rest to Old Bundegi Beach (before it became a sanctuary) for mainly bony herring.”

Rikki’s father followed suit, becoming a fisher and working closely alongside his dad.

Upon reflection, Rikki said that her and her sister had a wonderful childhood enjoying the opportunity to grow up with a sense of freedom.

“When we were little, there was no cots or cribs– so it was quite often us sitting in little prawn baskets,” she laughed.

“My sister and I lived in caravans on a fishing camp at Gales Bay – which we still work at today. We also got to do a lot of travelling across Northern WA.”

“There was always something to do, see or explore. ‘Bored’ didn’t exist as there was never a dull moment playing down by the beach or getting on the boat with dad and granddad.”

“Once we were old enough – we took baskets out, assisted with nets, completed regular monitoring of ice slurry temperatures  and gauged and measured fish. That was your typical day.”

Rikki and Dad 2002, yellowfin sand whiting in Gales Bay

Rikki said that her granddad turned 90 this year and asked her to take over his licence.

She said accepting his offer was the right thing to do and was looking forward to new opportunities next year.

“I love the water and I know the industry, and business well.”

“Living back in Exmouth for the past 10 years, I have been working on and off throughout the decade – assisting dad where possible. The coming year will see me working full time with him.”

“The style of fishing we do is beach seining – where we employ a fishing net called a seine. We have no bycatch and undersized fish go back into the ocean to regroup with other schools and get bigger. We fish sustainably in a controlled, safe and eco-friendly environment.”

Beach Seine Fishing

The family fish for edible species including deep sea mullet (bluefin and yellowfin), bream, yellowfin sand whiting and bait species including mullet, garfish and hardy heads.

Dad teaching daughter – A catch of whiting, Exmouth Gulf 1995

“We sell our products to local businesses – mainly species used as bait, but we do also cater for the edible market where product goes to the seafood retailer the ‘Fresh Fish Shack’ in Exmouth and a retailer in Shark Bay.”

Rikki also mentioned that when she was younger, the family would also catch shark as an edible product – which was a huge market for them.

“We have struggled a lot since they took our licence off of us. We get a lot of comments from locals who are supportive of us being able to catch the species again. They say that the population is huge, and they can’t even bring a fish in themselves without it being bitten.”

“I would like to see this revisited in the future – it would be very sustainable if we were ever to get back into that market.”

Fishing for whiting.

Concluding, Rikki said she looks forward to 2019 and everything that comes with it.

“Next year I will be working on new markets and foresee us selling direct – focusing on boutique style orders.”

“I also aim to promote the lesser known species. Whiting has always been quite popular for us, but people don’t release just how good mullet or garfish are.”

“Garfish is actually very tasty and the best way that I found to cook mullet, is simply fresh from the ocean, on the BBQ with a little bit of olive oil. It comes out amazing – the flavour you get from that is not over powering, muddy or salty. You can even freeze it, but if you defrost it – cook it straight away!”

“I look forward to continuing the legacy of being a proud 3rd generation fisher, working with the community and providing access to our fantastic seafood.”

“I just can’t wait for my daughter to be able to grow up in the same environment as my sister and I!”