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Long-term commitment to fish industry

SEALANES has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a seafood outlet more than 70 years ago.

The third-generation family company has become a one-stop wholesaler, supplying everything from ropes to vegemite.

Fish sales today represent only a portion of revenue for the company, started by current managing director Victor Paino’s father. Mr Paino’s son, director Mark Paino, said 60 per cent of the company’s revenue stemmed from the food services division. Just 30 per cent of this came from fish sales.

While the company is no longer as reliant on fish sales, any suggestion that the fish retail store operating out of the company’s headquarters be closed is quickly rejected by Mark Paino.

He told Business News that Sealanes would always be involved in the fishing industry.

According to Business News’ Book of Lists, Sealanes, which employs 220 people, is ranked as WA’s 31st largest private company with revenue in access of $80 million last financial year. The company has about 90 vehicles on the road nationwide.

But it’s not all smooth sailing.

“It not easy running this kind of business at all. It’s pretty tough,” Mr Paino said.

“It’s competitive, you have staff issues, you have ongoing sagas all the time.

“You have occupational issues, communication issues, payment issues and health and safety to deal with.”

Mr Paino said the family also had to deal with the suspicion from some of the staff that Paino family members were given an easy ride to senior positions.

“It’s not going to go away. You get alienated at times and you get baited sometimes as well,” he said.

“But Sealanes on the whole has got a pretty good name out there and we try our best.”

A growing sector for the business is in supplying the passenger cruise ships that call into ports around Australia. The Dutch, New Zealand and US navies, offshore oil rigs and mining towns also are demanding the company’s services.

It’s a niche market Mr Paino hopes to capitalise on.

Already stretched to the seams at its Marine Terrace home, Sealanes will be moving its 220 staff in stages to a 3.5-hectare Robb Jetty site. A bulk freezer holding 5,500 pallets has already been built on the site and plans are in place for a new $10 million warehouse, which Mr Piano said was five years overdue and would provide the company with enough space for the next 30 years.

The administration will remain at the current headquarters for the next few years.

Mr Paino said the family was considering the possibility of turning the current premises on Marine Terrace into a retirement village.

The company’s success has not gone unnoticed in the wider business community. Last year Sealanes was recognised at the National Family Business Awards, and last month it won the WA Family Business Award.

While the Paino family are quick to promote their success, they jealously guard trade secrets that could benefit their competitors.

But Sealanes is not unique in this regard. Other industry players are also known to ‘keep mum’ about what they are doing.

One area where the industry does work together is through the WA Fishing Industry Council and its marketing arm, Westfish. A government-sponsored marketing body, Westfish seeks to increase the consumption of locally caught fish by Western Australians and bring it into line with consumption in other parts of Australia and internationally.

Westfish vice chairman and Sealanes marketing manager of food, Paul Paino, said although WA was the nation’s largest producer of seafood, Western Australian’s eat fish on average only once a week. In the eastern states people consume fish about three times a week.

According to the Australian Fisheries Statistics report produced by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, WA fisheries account for 33 per cent of the value of Australia’s fisheries production.

In 1999-2000, 40,400 tonnes were caught, while the gross value increased 30 per cent over the year to $768 million.

The growth primarily came from a 47 per cent increase in the value of the rock lobster industry, which was worth about $125 million for the year.

Despite the growth in the local industry, imports still account for about 60 per cent of all seafood consumed in Australia. Over the past decade the total volume of seafood imported has risen 50 per cent.

However, Paul Paino does not see the import industry, which can supply fish far cheaper than the local industry, as a threat to the local product.

He believes imports are an important contributor to the industry and filled a different market.

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