Australians love seafood but unfortunately the phrase “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” is often not the case. Whether it’s in a sandwich, cooked on a barbeque or pan fried, seafood is one of the most versatile foods to cook with. It also has a myriad of health benefits since it is high in vitamins, minerals, protein and essential omega 3 fatty acids. Although the popularity of seafood continues to grow as a protein, the health of our oceans are not due to overfishing, destructive fishing gear and poor aquaculture practices. Globally, the health of our oceans is in massive decline with approximately 80 per cent of the world’s fish stocks either being fully exploited or overexploited.
Fortunately it’s not all doom and gloom. There is something we can do about the health of our marine ecosystem if fishing is managed responsibly and consumers choose wisely and pick sustainable seafood. Sustainable seafood is seafood which is caught or farmed responsibly with minimal impact to marine species and the ecosystem they live in. But with all the conflicting information and Australia’s history of inconsistent labeling laws, how can you make sure you make better choices when it comes to what you put on your plate?
Here’s some tips to become a sustainable seafood eater.
Approximately 72 percent of the seafood Australians eat is imported. Imported seafood is often overfished, which places further environmental pressure upon our ocean. On the up side, Australian fisheries are rated among the best managed in the world so it makes sense that Australians eat from their own backyard first. Eating local, seasonal seafood is not only better for the environment, it’s often more flavourful since it is fresher and has lower food miles. By supporting local fisheries, the local community and economy is also being supported.
If you can’t avoid buying imported seafood, do your research and look out for sustainable information on labels and accreditation logos, particularly the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification logo on cans and packaging. This means that it comes from fisheries that meet international standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability.
Do your research
In Australia, country of origin labelling is now legally required for seafood products, but there’s still a lot missing, for example specific fishing and aquaculture methods and standardised species names. Whether you are buying your seafood at a local fish shop or eating at a seafood restaurant, be a savvy shopper and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always ask whether the seafood is in season, where it is from and how is it caught or farmed. Make friends with a local fishmonger who supports sustainable fisheries. They are likely to be a wealth of information and happy to tell you where they source their produce and recommend different species to try.
Another good place to start is the Sustainable Seafood Guide developed by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) which uses a traffic light system to rate seafood species as “better”, “think”, or “no”. The ‘better’ choice category represents species which are not currently overfished and fairly resilient to fishing pressure. Some of these species may have minor conservation concerns but have been assessed to be a better seafood choice.For some examples of this see the map below.
Or check out the GoodFishBadFish websiteat www.goodfishbadfish.com.au. The Seafood Converter lets you search species and access useful information on sustainability, alternatives and even cooking tips.
Change your tuna
Australians eat a whopping 50,000 tonnes of tuna every year, making it the most consumed seafood on the market. But next time you enjoy a tuna sandwich think carefully about how it is sourced since not all tuna is sourced responsibly. Our appetite for tuna has pushed many species to the edge of extinction. Australia’s favourite fish has fallen victim to destructive fishing practices and damaging bycatch from Fish Aggrevating Devices (FADSs) where unintended marine species such as sharks, dolphins and turtles get tangled up in the fishing gear .
Rethink your fish and chips
Sharks are one of the most threatened fish in Australia because they are slow to regenerate. It takes sharks a long time to reach sexual maturity. Next time you’re ordering seafood at your local fish and chip shop opt for less endangered species like barramundi, snapper or blue-eyed cod rather than flake (shark).
Avoid Overfished Species
Overfishing has placed many fish species near extinction. This occurs where fish stocks are depleted to unacceptable levels (more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction). Overfishing has placed many fish species near extinction and is a serious threat to the overall marine ecosystem. Bluefin Tuna, Shark, Swordfish and long lived species including Orange Roughy (Deep Sea Perch) are some of the most overfished species that should be avoided.
Make it a treat
Cut down on your weekly seafood consumption and make it a treat rather than a daily meal. Have a sustainable seafood feast on a special occasion, rather than having smoked salmon with your breakfast and tuna sandwiches for lunch every day.
Move down the food chain
As far as wild caught fish are concerned, sustainable seafood is usually sourced from fast growing species lower in the food chain. These species are able to regenerate more and able to withstand the pressures of fishing. Since sharks, similar to tuna, are apex predators at the top of the food chain, there will be a destructive impact on the whole marine ecosystem if too many are taken out of the ocean. So next time you shop, choose species lower in the food chain like sardines over bigger species like tuna and shark.
Say goodbye to packaging and waste
To be a real sustainable shopper, buy seafood which is fresh and unpackaged. This seafood is much more likely to be locally caught and also has a positive impact on sustainability since it’s not contributing the millions of tons of plastic Australians use up every year. Make sure no fish goes to waste by using leftovers in recipes such as pies and stews. Fish bones and skeletons are also great for flavouring soups or making a full bodied fish broth.
Break the Trends – Choose Lesser Known Fish
It’s easy to get caught up in trends when it comes to seafood. If a fish is popular, fisheries need to catch more and more, which can push the species to the point of extinction so future generations can’t enjoy it. A fish which is often chosen for it’s popularity is Atlantic Salmon, at the detriment of it’s less trendy sister – wild salmon. Barramundi, flathead and silver perch are much better alternatives to slow growing tuna and salmon species. Try something different and give the popular species a break to ensure that future generations can enjoy them.