Fishmonger Blues

8 Jul 2011 0

Simple consumer choices like selecting a thriving fish like Whiting from your fish and chip shop menu over a depleted species such as Flake or Tropical Snapper (pictured) can have a profound effect on the viability of our fishstocks.

Simple consumer choices like selecting a thriving fish like Whiting from your fish and chip shop menu over a depleted species such as Flake or Tropical Snapper (pictured) can have a profound effect on the viability of our fishstocks.

Enjoying a greasy pile of fish and chips on the beach is part of the coastal lifestyle, but with increased concern about Australia's depleted fish stocks coming out in whispers and shouts our choices as consumers may have a direct bearing on what will be on tomorrow's menu. The good news is you don't have to give up Barrumundi for mung beans. The Australian Marine Conservation Society has recently published a guide to help consumers make environmentally aware decisions and ensure supermarket shelves continue to be stocked aplenty.

Tooni Mahto from AMCS tells us what its all about...

Choosing to eat seafood lower down the food chain such as Sardines, and avoiding longlived, large fish that are slow to reproduce such as Bluefin Tuna, reduces your impact as a consumer and helps ensure the sustainability of fish stocks.

Choosing to eat seafood lower down the food chain such as Sardines, and avoiding longlived, large fish that are slow to reproduce such as Bluefin Tuna, reduces your impact as a consumer and helps ensure the sustainability of fish stocks.

SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD

We turn to the ocean for many things - for solace in hard times, for surf in fun times, for relaxation in holiday times, and for food at meal times. But it’s sometimes hard to make the connection between the fillet on your plate and the wild ocean at your back door, and difficult to draw the line between the old adage of ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ and the reports of dwindling global fish stocks. But the uncomfortable truth is that unless we turn our attention to how we source our seafood, we may well be eating ourselves into a seafood crisis.

The global fisheries crisis is well documented in the science and in the media. Since the dawn of the industrial era, we have mined 90% of the big fish from the ocean; these are the tuna, the billfish and the marlin, prized for their rich, muscular flesh. Some 70 million sharks are extracted every year; their value is reduced down to the size of a fin in a bowl of soup, and in Australia, some end up served as flake alongside a portion of chips.  The hidden environmental cost of destructive fishing methods is a price we may all have to bear as our fisheries cause more damage than the ocean is able to cope with: deep-sea trawling destroys centuries old corals growing on seamounts hundreds of metres below the surface and endangered sea turtles and albatross are hooked on long-lines spread across kilometres of the ocean.

Australia:

Here in Australia, it would seem our fish stocks are in better shape than those that have been historically fished on a large scale for many centuries. High population numbers translated into intense fishing pressure around the Atlantic have had dramatic effects on some fisheries, the most famous of which is the collapse of the Grand Banks cod stocks off the east coast of America. The fishing fleet went the same way as the cod, causing massive social and economic upheaval.

However, the myth that Australian fisheries management is the best in the world is just that, a myth. And given that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) state that 85% of the worlds fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, we’re not exactly competing in a premier league field.

That said, there are highlights to the way in which the government and industry are approaching taking care of our marine environment. For example, fisheries have made advances towards reducing by-catch by the introduction of By-catch Reduction Devices (BRD’s) and we have some areas of our oceans fully protected in marine sanctuaries.

However, we have a long way to go before we can claim Australia’s fisheries are sustainable. 15 stocks managed by the Federal Government are classified as overfished or subject to overfishing. Australia has an appetite for shark meat that is at odds with the recommendations of scientists, and fisheries regularly put some of our most threatened marine inhabitants at risk. Endangered sharks are caught on hooks attached to long-lines that hope to catch tuna and billfish, and Australian sea lions, found no-where else on the planet, drown in gillnets catching gummy sharks off southern Australia. Added to which, two thirds of the seafood sold in Australia is imported, potentially from countries with poorer environmental regulations.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture, or farming seafood, is regularly lauded as the saviour to the crisis facing our wild fish stocks. Farming certain types of seafood can produce high quality goods with a low environmental footprint – mussels grow on ropes, filter feeding on microscopic algae and animals in the water column, and oysters grow on trays and racks.

Other types of fish farming actually increase the pressure on wild fish stocks. Carnivorous and omnivorous fish, such as Atlantic salmon and barramundi, are reliant on catches of wild caught fish to produce their feed. These feed fish are generally caught in industrial scale fisheries, such as the Peruvian anchovy fishery, in which about 7 million tonnes are extracted annually from the seas washing Peruvian shores. But it takes more wild caught fish to ‘grow’ far less farmed fish fillet.

This situation reaches its zenith in southern bluefin tuna ranching. Southern bluefin are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List), and their stock levels are down to 5% of historical spawning biomass. The Australian fishery targets juvenile southern bluefin tunas, transfers them to holding pens in the sea and feeds them wild caught fish to fatten them up ready for slaughter. This means that not only is the fishery removing fish that haven’t had the chance to reproduce and re-stock the dwindling population, but it also feeds these tuna between about 10-15kgs of wild caught fish to produce a kilo of tuna fillet.

What is the alternative?

Achieving sustainable fisheries is absolutely attainable; it just requires a slight shift in the way we think about our fish. We are consuming wild animals that play complex roles on a wider stage than our fisheries management currently contemplates. Management has to account for the greater marine environment, decreasing the effect of the fishing gear on the ecosystem and reducing harmful interactions with other species. Aquaculture operations need to reduce their dependence on wild caught fish by developing alternative sources, such as algal-based feed, and reduce their footprint of pollution on coastal waters.

Consumer choice, though, is the most powerful way that every single seafood eating Australian can protect the ocean realms they love. The Australian Marine Conservation Society produces ‘Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide’, which employs a traffic light system showing people which fish to steer clear of, and which are a better choice. There are plenty of great sustainable seafood choices out there. Choosing the sustainable option might require some changes to the types of seafood we eat regularly, but if our collective end goal is ensuring we can keep on eating the fruits of the sea into the future whilst protecting the health of our oceans, it seems like a small price to pay.


Tuna: Many species are overfished, are caught on long-lines that also catch turtles, sharks and sea birds, and as top predators in the ocean, hold a significant role in marine ecosystems. Albacore and skipjack tuna caught using troll or pole and line methods are a better option.
Farmed salmon and barramundi:
There are significant environmental effects from feed and fish waste. Pollution is an issue, with toxic chemicals used to keep sea cages clean and fish treated with antibiotics. Fish also require high quantities of wild caught fish for the production of their feed.
Shark:
Sharks are generally slow growing, late to mature and produce very few offspring; hence they are very vulnerable to fishing pressure. There are also by-catch issues associated with some shark fisheries, including the capture and drowning of Australian Sea Lions. Shark meat is commonly sold as ‘flake’ in Victoria and New South Wales.


Haul Caught prawns from NSW:  These prawns are caught using mid-water nets that don’t impact on the sea floor, and there is very little by-catch associated with this fishery.
Squid, calamari, whiting and octopus:
These animals are generally fast growing and so can withstand fishing pressure. The fishing methods used to catch them are considered low impact.
Whiting and King George Whiting:
These widely available and fast growing fish can withstand fishing pressure.

For more information, please visit the Sustainable Seafood website.



The End of the Line is a documentary on the devastating effect of overfishing. Broaching the question what would the ocean be without fish, this documentary is sure to shock. Below is a clip from the doco on the imbalance of resources needed for farming fish that end up on our plate...

Struggling to decide between swordfish steaks and calamari carbonara? You don't have to be a masterchef to manage your marine menu sustainably. Just head to the AMCS website and download the free mini-hand booklet or purchase the printed guide.

About the Author - Tooni Mahto is the marine campaigns officer for Australian Marine Conservation Society's campaigns. The AMCS is a voice for Australia's oceans working on behalf of the community to protect wildlife, make fisheries sustainable and create protected places in the sea. 

Visit Australian Marine Conservation Society's website.

Tags: seafood , marine , sustainability , fish , Australia (create Alert from these tags)

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