Fishing maverick on a mission

• Don Heather was reeling in the customers after launching his autobiography. Photo by Steve Grant.

RETIRED fisherman Don Heather launched an autobiography this month that’s packed to the gunwales with fishy tales.

Of Fisheries and Islands is a rollicking read about his early seafaring days, from his appointment as a fisheries inspector in Geraldton through to his time as a canny captain outwitting the increasingly bureaucratic authorities.


Mr Heather was a pioneer across many facets of the industry throughout his 60-year career; two years ago he made the news over his attempts to create a lucrative bottarga industry from fish normally written off as “bait” (“Mullets stun fishers,” Fremantle Herald, August 12, 2017).

After the book launch he said it was still a work in progress, as he’s struggled to convince local skippers to keep aside their mullet roe, even though he cures it into a $240 a kilo delicacy that’s got eastern states chefs begging for more.

Mr Heather’s ability to sail his own course towards success is a recurrent theme throughout the book.

His first foray into cray fishing, in a borrowed boat, should have been a disaster when he inadvertently set his pots over seaweed.

Other fishermen were convinced he was working “dead ground”, but after a few days of healthy hauls Mr Heather found himself increasingly surrounded by other hopefuls.

“This accidental start to my fishing career saved me from the failure I think I would have been without it,” he says.

“I’d learnt a lesson that I would remember for the rest of my 50 years in the fishing industry – never take conventional wisdom for granted without testing it.”

A healthy distrust of authority is also a common thread, and his crossing swords with missionaries while trying to help the indigenous Yolngu people of the Wessel Islands establish a fishing industry is laugh-out-loud funny.

“It wasn’t funny at the time, it was frustration,” Mr Heather recalled.

The missionaries were merciless in their profiteering from the Yolngu and clearly discriminatory, but when he tried to redress the situation they made it their mission to make his life hell.


True to his cheeky reputation, Mr Heather got his own back in the best possible way; while back on the mainland for some time off, he read the New Testament from back to front, then liberally used its quotes to confound his religious antagonists.

“I could reduce them to a rage in a second,” he giggles.

Mr Heather said on Sunday that he’s already got plans for a follow-up volume.

“Oh yeah, we were the first to go fishing on Ningaloo Reef, but of course it wasn’t called Ningaloo back then,” he says enthusiastically.

Of Fisheries and Islands is available from Mr Heather and his wife Jean’s stall at the Palmyra Western Farmers Market every second Sunday or from


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