Raised by his grandparents, Robert Dawson recalls going on regular childhood eeling expeditions with his uncles and aunties. Today, he’s the man behind Moko Smoked Eel. Dawson spoke to the team about exciting changes this year with the next generation of family coming on board.
What is your company background, how did you start the business?
"While it was normally dark, raining and not that comfortable, I remember a sense of camaraderie and plenty of banter on those trips. My friends and family came together to find food, and I also learnt how to split and dry eels. In the following years, I still went out eeling regularly to feed my family or for special gatherings. Then, in 2006, after working in the meat industry for 46 years, I was made redundant.
Looking for something to do to keep myself busy, my wife Bev and I decided to see if we could make a living from eels.
We fished our own eel quota in North Canterbury from October through to April each year, returning to our Woodend property where we process and smoke eel. Grandson Caleb (the Moko) for whom the business is named also helps out. I’m teaching him about environmental management and guardianship. Due to the demand for our product, we no longer fish ourselves and buy off eel fishermen who fish under the sustainable fishing quota management.
In 2011 we won the NZ Farmers Market Award and also won the 2013 NZ Cuisine Artisan Award."
What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?
"Currently, our product is packed in 200-gram vacuum packs, but we can supply in whole smoked fillet form or whole smoked eel as requested. Also, we have fresh eel, either whole or filleted. It is wild caught, organic, short-finned eel."
What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?
"There is going to be some exciting changes this year with the next generation of the family coming on board, bringing in innovative ideas and energy."
Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?
"Our products are mainly sold to restaurants and wineries nationwide. We also sell at Lyttelton Farmers Market and Riccarton Market. We would certainly like to expand our market in the greater Auckland region.
We use a very small percentage of the eel that is available to us; there is no problem with supply."