How sustainable is your seafood?

By Rebecca Nosiara 


Whether it’s tuna, lobster or oysters, Australians love to partake in the delicacies of the sea. But how sustainable is our love for all things fishy?

Generally defined, sustainable fishing means seafood that’s been caught or farmed in ways that are considerate to fish populations and the environment. There’s no quick guide to whether either practice is more sustainable - it depends on the fishery, on the regulations of the country, and on the type of fish itself. The ocean is a delicate ecosystem, and we have to be careful not to upset that.

The bad news is that a lot of the world’s fisheries are fished to the limit. The good news is that in Australia and New Zealand, our fishing is heavily regulated, and sustainability is the law. If you buy local, you’re supporting responsible fishing practices. There’s a long way to go to change fishing industries worldwide but getting clued up on where your seafood comes from is a great start!

John Susman of the seafood marketing company, Fishtales, works in all aspects of the industry - from individual catchers and growers, to large distributors. He says that, “disobeying the laws which govern fishing result in the immediate loss of assets (boats, licenses and quota) until the charge has been cleared – therefore there is a massive disincentive to not produce seafood sustainably.” This is great news for local seafood lovers, who have access to seafood they know has to go through these stringent laws.

In terms of seafood from the rest of the world, he goes on to say, “this is where third party certifying agencies, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Friend of the Sea (FOS), or Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) come into play – if an imported seafood carries one of these certifications, buyers can be assured that they have been caught or grown sustainably.”

While Port Philip and Westernport Bays – two of the biggest commercial fishing bays in Victoria – have this year been closed to commercial fishing, recreational fishing is still allowed. Catching your own is a simple way to guarantee your fish (or calamari – plentiful in the Bays!) is fresh and ocean-friendly.

The greatest challenge to achieving a sustainable fishing industry is the huge amount of seafood required for it to be readily available all year round. Australians have large apetite for seafood, and for good reason - it’s healthy and it’s delicious. How can we, on a personal level, make sure we’re making the right choices?

Here are some tips to eating sustainably, and reducing our impact on the ocean:

Diversifying the type of seafood we eat. A lot of the problems of overfishing come from everyone eating the same type of fish. If we expand our palettes, we’ll be helping the fishing industry and discovering great new types of seafood at the same time. Win-win! Here’s a helpful list from the website GoodFishBadFish, of their top picks.

Asking questions. When you’re buying fish from the market, it’s easy to check whether it’s local and fresh. But when you’re in a restaurant, it can be a little trickier. Asking your waiter where the fish was sourced is a small thing that could help you make a more sustainable choice, and let the restaurant know that it’s something their customers want.

Doing a bit of your own research. For instance, Greenpeace have made this super handy guide to canned tuna that easily ranks which companies are working towards sustainability and which aren’t doing enough. Every little choice can help!

Buy local. The best thing you can do is support your local fishing industry. Not only will you be getting sustainable seafood, but you’ll be getting some of the freshest and most delicious seafood in the world!

And if all this fish-talk has whet your appetite, why not come along to these events at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival? Cook the Bay and The Great Seafood Dinner will both be seafood extravaganzas, with aquatic experts on hand to answer any other questions you might have.