"These are our best pies yet!" announces Apollo Bay Bakery owner Sally Cannon as she bites into pastry filled with piping-hot Lakes Entrance scallops.
The owner of the Great Ocean Road bakery first put scallops in a pie when she bought the business with her sister, Jane Johnston, in 2011.
While famous for its curried and mornay variety scallop pies that once featured in The New York Times travel pages, it was not until last week that Apollo Bay Bakery could use Victorian scallops. Cannon has previously relied on Chinese-grown scallops and Tasmanian catch of the bottom-dwelling bivalve.
Victorian scallops have been available but scarce since the closure of the Port Phillip Bay scallop fishery and the establishment of a strict quota system in the late 1990s. However, the discovery of a massive new scallop bed off the shores of Lakes Entrance in East Gippsland will lead to a fresh wave of Victorian scallops hitting shops, restaurants and bakeries when commercial harvest starts shortly.
"We aim to take the scallop pie crown off the bakeries of Tasmania and make Victoria the capital of the scallop pie," says Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) director Dallas D'Silva.
Rumour of a large, untouched scallop bed near Bass Strait oil rigs has circulated Lakes Entrance in the past few years. In December, a survey boat contracted by the VFA confirmed its existence. A huge swath of seabed is estimated to hold nearly 8000 tonnes of scallops within 20 nautical miles of the coast.
As a result, the VFA, in consultation with industry bodies, increased the total allowable catch for commercial scallop fishers from 135 tonnes to 879 tonnes per annum across the state.
Many of the scallops will land in Lakes Entrance to be processed and shipped to markets around the nation.
Lakes Entrance fisher Andy Watts expressed the town's excitement. "The fleet is ready to rock and roll and head out fishing early next week," he says.
With the scallop bed four times closer to shore than the Commonwealth fishery off Tasmania – roughly 80 nautical miles south of Lakes Entrance – the savings in fuel for local fishers will be massive.
The annual harvest of scallops will be only 12 per cent of the total population, with remaining stocks left intact to repopulate the bed. Watts says it is a good time of the year for scallops as colder months cause the bivalves to fatten up.
"This is great news," says chef Nick Mahlook from Lakes Entrance restaurant Sodafish. "We are going to have better, fresher scallops for longer." Mahlook is known for a dish of gently roasted scallops flavoured with rosemary and guanciale (cured pork jowl).
Cannon says the quality of the Victorian scallops is outstanding. Imported scallops once used by Apollo Bay Bakery were processed to absorb water that would increase their weight. Liquid would ooze from the scallops once they had thawed and continue to exude as the pies baked, creating hot watery juices that ended up on customers.
"But these local scallops hold onto their juice so well," says Cannon.
The state government hopes the Victorian food industry will embrace this injection of local scallops onto the market.
"We want to see Victorian scallop pies on the menu of every bakery in Victoria," says Fishing and Boating Minister Melissa Horne. "There really is no equal to Victorian scallops for quality and freshness."
With Tasmania notionally the scallop pie capital of the world, the minister's words could ruffle a few feathers on the other side of Bass Strait.
However, the sisters at Apollo Bay Bakery say they want no part in a "scallop pie war".
"We respect there is a history of scallop pies in Tasmania," says Jane Johnston. "But we use our grandmother's recipe, made by her family on the banks of the Moyne in Port Fairy. It's a proud family tradition."
Sally Cannon butts in: "Although our customers do tell us our scallop pies are as good as the Tasmanian ones." Johnston quickly adds, "if not better."