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“Sustainable seafood is about eating seafood today, tomorrow and into the future. It is about ensuring the ongoing vitality of the marine environment, the species that call it home, and the communities that it supports.”
Oliver Edwards Founder of GoodFishBadFish

01 World's Fish Stocks in a Spot of Bother

It is now well publicised that the world's fish stocks are in trouble.

Decades of mismanagement and continued overfishing have reduced many species' populations to the brink of extinction. There is hope, however. Consumers, government and the seafood industry are becoming aware of their impact and fishers and farmers are changing their practices in accordance.

As consumers, our role is to be mindful of our seafood consumption, choose more sustainable species from well-managed fisheries and send a clear message up the supply chain (to chefs, retailers, wholesalers, farmers and fishers) that responsible practices are a viable and necessary part of their industry.

Go On... Mullet Over
 

02 What Makes a Species 'More' or 'Less' Sustainable?

Sustainability, It's Complicated 'Sustainability' is a very hard thing to define, especially when it relates to seafood. There are many different factors that need to be assessed, such as a species' total population, breeding habits (how long it takes for a population to regenerate), migration routes, and fishing methods employed, as well as the effects of fishing pressure on the broader ecosystem. And that's just wild fisheries… Aquaculture (fish farming) is another kettle of fish entirely! It's no wonder that different groups and individuals sometimes come to different conclusions about what is sustainable and what isn't.

Two common species well loved by most Australian's are Barramundi and Snapper. Both are tricky, so we thought we better have a closer look at them.

  • SNAPPER

    Snapper is caught by a range of fishing methods throughout Australia, from the south of Qld right around to central WA. It is also imported from NZ. Most have been overfished in the past, and they are in various states of recovery. The Victorian stock is currently the healthiest and was accredited as sustainable by the Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program (SASAP) in 2011. Read more about SASAP and the seafood products they've assess as sustainable here.

  • BARRAMUNDI

    The Barramundi available to us in Australia comes from a range of sources. It may be imported farmed product, local wild, or local farmed. So how are we to decide which Barramundi we should be eating? The AMCS recommends that consumers 'Say No' to imported farmed Barra as well as local product that is the result of sea cage aquaculture, while advising that you 'Think Twice' about local fish from the wild or land-based farms. However, Cone Bay Barramundi, a product of sea cage aquaculture, has been identified as sustainable by the Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program (SASAP) due to its best practice management and low environmental impact.

  • DECIDE WHAT SITS BEST WITH YOU

    The different guides out there serve different purposes and have varying core values at the heart of their recommendations. It is the task of you as a consumer to find a group whose values align with your own.

    Choosing sustainable seafood isn't black and white, but it doesn't have to be a stressful experience either.

    You may want to consider the origin of what you purchase, and how it was fished or farmed.
    If in doubt, start by supporting Australian producers and go from there. Never be afraid to ask questions, it's the only way seafood suppliers, retailers and the hospitality industry will know what their customers want.

 

For more information on how to find, choose and cook sustainable seafood, check out goodfishbadfish.com.au
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03 It's About Us

At the pointy end of the matter, though, is the fact that sustainability is less about fish species than it is about our own behaviour.

The truth is there is no such thing as 'sustainable seafood'. Our role as consumers doesn't begin and end with which fish species to choose at the fishmonger.

At the end of the day, the buck starts and stops with not only what, but how and how much.

Sustainable seafood is actually about eating, fishing or farming seafood in a sustainable manner. It's about our (consumers, regulators and fishermen alike) behaviour:

What we consume, farm and fish - Which species should we avoid, which should be opt for, are there species of fish more suited to farming? Where is the seafood coming from - locally, overseas, well managed or poorly managed fisheries and farms?

How we consume, farm and fish - Do we use the whole fish or do we waste bits of it? Do we cook it with respect or does it get lost in other ingredients? Which fishing and farming techniques are less destructive or even beneficial to the environment and ecosystems?

How much we consume, farm and fish - Are we being mindful of how often we eat seafood and of our serving sizes? Are we overfishing populations? Are we intensively farming fish at the expense of the environment, ecosystems, animal welfare and our health?

Of course in order to understand how we need to behave when it comes to seafood, we need a basic understanding of the issues at play...

Or fast track to Holy Mackerel! What You Can Do to see our 5 Steps to Sustainable Seafood and more. TOP

04 The Big Fat Fishy Issues

Import mania

A whopping 72% of the seafood eaten in Australia is imported from countries including Thailand, China, New Zealand and Vietnam. That equates to 200,000 tonnes of seafood imported annually. This makes seafood our largest food product import by far.

Import Mania
WHAT TYPE OF SEAFOOD IS IMPORTED?

Canned fish such as Tuna and Salmon, frozen fish fillets, Prawns and Squid are the major imported items.

WHERE DOES IT ALL GO?

Retail stores, restaurants and catering operations mostly – not for use as bait for instance. Imports typically make up more than half of the seafood range in the major supermarket chains. Independent fishmongers focus more on Australian produce and sell fewer imports than the supermarkets.

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH CHEAP IMPORTS?

Prawns were once treated like gold and only whipped out on very special occasions – birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas lunches... Well that was then. Nowadays Prawns are everywhere. They're cheap enough to be thrown on or in anything: curries, pasta, sushi, pizza (a garlic prawn pizza can cost a mere $15). What happened and what is the true cost?

A total of 75% of the world's farmed Prawns are produced in Asia alone, mainly for export. In Australia 50% of the Prawns we consume are imported and sold at a much cheaper price than local prawns. The problem is that whilst we're paying just a few dollars a kilo, the environment and the Prawn-farming communities pay a significantly higher price. Environmental destruction, food insecurity, human rights abuses and illegal land-seizures are just a few examples of the problems associated with Prawn farming in Asia and Latin America.

“If you're eating cheap Prawns today, it almost certainly comes from a turbid, pesticide and antibiotic filled, virus-laden pond in the tropical climes of one of the world's poorest nations.”
Taras Grescoe Author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.

CHECK OUT THE WHAT'S THE CATCH EPISODE ON PRAWN FARMING:


In this SBS television series, author Matthew Evans explores prawn farming practices in Thailand, where much of our imported prawns are sourced from, and shows the devastating impact our insatiable appetite for prawns is having.

You might like these prawny Table Talk posts:


The Tuna Pickle

Sushi and canned tuna fans are plentiful, but our insatiable appetite for tuna has driven many of the tuna species to the brink of extinction. In fact, Atlantic Bluefin tuna stocks have been driven to just 3% of their 1960s numbers – a decline of 97%.

WHY DOES TUNA MATTER?

Besides being delicious and wanting to preserve tuna stocks for generations to come, Tuna, like Sharks, are apex predators – top of the food chain with not many natural predators. Taking too many apex predators out of our oceans disrupts the entire ecosystem.

Import Mania
CAN'T THE BIG TUNA MAKE MORE LITTLE TUNA?

Tuna are slow-growing and long-lived fish, meaning they take a long time to get to an age of sexual maturity in order to reproduce. This means populations in decline take a long time to recover. Also, current practices of taking juvenile Bluefin Tuna out of the oceans and placing them into sea-cage farms to be fattened means they are killed before they are able to produce young.

CHECK OUT THE WHAT'S THE CATCH EPISODE ON TUNA AND TUNA FARMING:
In this episode of the SBS television series What's the Catch, author Matthew Evans investigates the issues surrounding eating and farming tuna, in particular Southern Bluefin Tuna. With it taking up 10kg of feed to produce 1kg of tuna, is tuna farming something we should be practising?
 

ARE THE HEALTH CONCERNS AROUND EATING TUNA VALID?

Yes. The health concerns are around mercury levels, because mercury can affect brain and nervous system function and development, particularly in developing foetuses. Mercury is found in the ocean and is consumed by all fish. Mercury gets more and more concentrated the higher up the food chain you go, so large predatory fish like tuna and shark right at the top of the food chain can contain harmful levels of mercury.

What about canned tuna?

Cost of Convenience

Canned Tuna Guide

If going without canned tuna is not something you're able or willing to do right now, be sure to check out the Greenpeace Canned Tuna Guide to learn which brands are ranked higher than others on the sustainability scale.

Labelling Woes

If you consider yourself to be an ethical meat eater then chances are you know exactly where and how to select meat so that the origin and farming methods are known. When it comes to being a mindful seafood eater, it is not so easy.

To make an informed choice, we need to know:

  • The standardised name of the fish or species
  • The fishing technique used or method of aquaculture
  • The country of origin or even more specific details such as the catch area

In Australia, country of origin labelling is now legally required for seafood products. This is a step in the right direction for seafood traceability, however it applies only to retailers – restaurants are not required to inform customers where their seafood comes from. The best you can do is ask questions and express your desire for more information and clearer labelling on menus.

Certified Sustainable Seafood MSC Also look out for the blue MSC eco-label when shopping or dining out. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent, non-profit organisation that provides certifications and eco-labelling for sustainable wild-captured seafood.

CHECK OUT THE WHAT'S THE CATCH EPISODE ON THE LABELLING ISSUE:
In this episode of the SBS series What's the Catch, author Matthew Evans explores the impact that poor labelling laws is having on fish species, in particular one of Australia's favourite fish, flake.

Label My Fish Campaign

You can have your say and push for better labelling laws in Australia by sending an email to the government via the Label My Fish website. Every email sent is a step closer to better labelling standards across the country.

After the compulsory labelling of imported seafood was introduced to the Northern Territory in 2008, consumer surveys indicated a strong preference to purchase Australian seafood, and a willingness to pay up to 25% more for it. The study exposed practices that were going unnoticed, such as promoting Barramundi on the menu which was imported when most customers assumed that it had been locally caught. By requiring that imported products be identified on menus, restaurants started to make more effort to source locally-caught fish because the public voted with their wallets to support local industries, which in general employ much more sustainable practices than their overseas counterparts.

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05 Fast Fishy Facts

  • THE BOTHER WITH BYCATCH

    Around ¼ of the world's catch is bycatch – turtles, seals, sharks, dolphins, seabirds and unintended fish species that get tangled up in the fishing gear. Usually they are thrown back into the ocean and are often dying or are already dead. The fishing methods used to catch Tuna, Blue Grenadier (or Hoki) and wild-caught Prawns yield some of the highest levels of bycatch.

  • FISHED TO THE MAX – OVERFISHED SPECIES

    Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction. Overfishing has placed many fish species near extinction. Bluefin Tuna, Shark, Swordfish and Orange Roughy (Deep Sea Perch) are some of the most overfished species that should be avoided.

  • FISHING METHODS 101A

    Fisheries use a range of different techniques to catch seafood. Some of these have a much greater impact on marine environments than others, so it makes sense to support those fisheries that employ least-damaging fishing techniques. Some lower-impact fishing methods include pole and line fishing, dive collection and pots and traps. Fishing methods that are known to have a negative impact include bottom trawling, gillnet and dredging, which is often used to collect scallops and clams. For a complete run-down on fishing techniques, visit GoodFishBadFish.

FISH FARMING 101B

Aquaculture or fish farming is a huge industry, and the world's fastest growing food sector. It now produces over 50% of the world's seafood.

Fish farming is often touted as the solution to overfishing, but is it?

Antibiotics may be used to stave off disease. There are also issues of fish welfare, pollution, land degradation and impacts to native fish populations and eco-systems.

Carnivorous fish raised in farms are fed wild caught fish in the form of fishmeal (pellets comprising small schooling fish species). It takes up to 2kg of fishmeal to produce 1kg of farmed Salmon, which places even more pressure on wild fisheries.

The fish farming industry is working hard to reduce this ratio and while fish farming may not be the answer, it must form part of the solution.

2 KEY TYPES OF FISH FARMING

Open sea-cage aquaculture is growing and is considered to be one of the most concerning types of fish farming due to farms being set up in natural waterways. Significant issues include increased disease and parasite transmission and fish welfare concerns due to high fish densities, the risk of escape and interbreeding with wild populations, and reduced water quality resulting from the accumulation of faecal waste.

1. The cage is moored to the ocean floor 2. Fishmeal based feeds are added to the cages
3. Buoyant tubes keep the cages afloat 4. Fish faeces and waste fall through the cages

Note Atlantic salmon from Tasmania is raised in this way.

CLOSED OR LAND BASED AQUACULTURE SYSTEMS

Closed aquaculture systems are primarily used for freshwater species with Silver Perch, Barramundi, Yabbies and Marron amongst the most common marketable species in Australia. Blacklip and Greenlip abalone are the main marine species produced in closed systems, and are experiencing rapid growth due to demand from Asian markets.

Closed system aquaculture is considered one of the more environmentally conscious methods of rearing aquatic species because of the tight control over waste water and the prevention of fish escape.

1. The pond or tank exists in a closed system 2. Species including barramundi are grown using this system
3. Feed is added

For more detailed information on fishing methods and fish farming visit goodfishbadfish.com.au.

DECISIONS MADE ON THE GROUND IMPACT OUR OCEANS

It would be unfair to blame all the problems of our oceans and waterways on lack of government regulation and the fishing industry. Human-caused pollution is affecting marine life and it is something we can all make personal efforts to reduce.

Each Australian is responsible for 69 kilograms of plastic waste every year, which could end up in our oceans affecting marine life and ocean health. Chemical runoff from conventional farms is also significantly contributing to growing marine dead zones around the world and toxic algae blooms. The choice to purchase organic and chemical-free food is a decision you make for your own health and that of our environment and oceans.

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06 Holy Mackerel! What Can I Do?

Holy Mackerel!
  • Buy locally sourced seafood, fresh not frozen, and support local communities and sustainably managed fisheries. Use our Fresh Seafood Suppliers list (Vic and Sydney only) to help you find fresh seafood near you. Also check out the Australian Conservation Foundation's site to find sustainable local seafood products, such as these in Victoria:

    Switch your fish – swap tuna for a tasty, sustainable alternative such as Mackerel, Australian Salmon (sometimes called Bay Trout but not Tasmanian raised Atlantic Salmon) or trevally. Use our Switch Your Fish Guide for more options.

    Skip the sushi – deemed a healthy takeaway alternative, sushi shops serve predominantly tuna, Atlantic Salmon and imported Prawns, three species that are widely deemed as being a poor choice for our oceans and the species. Consider this when next ordering sushi and go for the vegetarian option.

  • Look for country of origin labels at the shop or fishmonger – these labels are mandatory in Australia.

    Try Australian Skipjack Tuna instead of Bluefin, Yellowfin or Bigeye, or try Bonito.

    Eat lower down the food chain. Small schooling fish like Sardines and Mackerel are usually fast breeding and short-lived, making their stocks more robust and capable of withstanding fishing pressures.

    When it comes to prawns, look for local wild prawns, especially King Prawns from the Spencer Gulf, SA and Banana, Tiger and Endeavour Prawns from the Northern Prawn Fishery, which both have MSC certification.

    Always ask the shop or restaurant where the seafood has come from.

“Every time you order a cheap seafood laksa or imported prawn stir-fry, you are buying into the problem. Use your shopping dollar to vote for oceans and waterways that remain healthy and diverse so that generations to come can enjoy the variety and privilege we have.”
Cassie Duncan Co-Founder of Sustainable Table
Look through our wildly useful resources to help you make more sustainable choices:
5 Steps to Sustainable Seafood
5 Easy Steps to Sustainable Seafood

1. Diversify your choice & switch your fish!

Populations of popular seafood species such as Shark (Flake*), Tuna and Swordfish have been reduced to only 10% of what they were in the 1950s. Try something different, eat lower on the food chain (these fish regenerate more quickly) and give the popular species a break to preserve the balance of the ocean and ensure that future generations can enjoy them too.

*Much of the shark sold as flake in Australia is Gummy Shark from an Australian fishery and is not overfished. However, not all flake is Gummy Shark, other types of shark can be marketed as flake also, which can make it difficult for consumers. Sharks play a vital role in maintaining a balanced and healthy underwater ecosystem and are generally vulnerable to stock depletion because of the time it takes them to reach sexual maturity, that they have few young and are long-lived. Many people choose not to eat shark at all for this reason.

2. Educate yourself & ask questions

In Australia, country of origin labelling is now legally required for seafood products, but there's still a lot missing from labels, such as fishing and farming method and standardised species names. Be a savvy shopper, ask questions and use our easy Switch Your Fish Guide to make an informed choice.

3. Buy Local

A whopping 72% of the seafood Aussies eat is imported. Cheap imports are often fished and farmed without the same regulation, which adds to the environmental pressure placed on our oceans. Support local communities and sustainable fisheries where possible and if you are buying fish from overseas look for accreditation logos (i.e. MSC) and sustainable fish species.

4. Fish is still meat, so make it a treat

13 of the world's 17 fishing zones have already been depleted or are in serious decline. Australians chomp through an average of 25kg of seafood each year, the world average is 17kg per person. Want to save the ocean and preserve fish for future generations? Start by eating your greens. Make seafood a treat by choosing it less often and when you do, enjoy sensible portions of sustainable species that haven't been overfished or harvested using destructive methods.

5. Buy fresh & reduce plastic pollution

Australians dispose of 1.9 million tonnes of plastic packaging every year – that's enough to fill the MCG 9 times over! A gigantic plastic soup twice the size of France, containing over 100 million tonnes of waste has now formed in the Pacific Ocean and more than one million birds and marine animals die each year from consuming or becoming caught in plastic and other debris. Buy fresh to avoid unnecessary packaging. Fresh seafood will have been caught closer to where it is sold and thus have travelled a shorter distance to reach your plate.

Switch the Fish Guide
Switch the Fish & find what's right for your dish
Sustainable Seafood Guide
Download our printable pocket Sustainable Seafood Guide now!
Fresh Seafood Suppliers (Vic and Sydney only)

Sustainable Table's guide to fresh seafood in Victoria and Sydney

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07 Fish Dishes

How to cook Sustainable Seafood

Cook with love

Eat with respect

Make it a treat and enjoy it with friends and family

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