These days, we’re pretty clued up on the state of the worlds dwindling fish stocks, but in wearing our consumer hats, how do we navigate what this means when it comes to the crunch? How well do we know where each and every piece of seafood we bite comes from, who caught it, what it actually is? Let alone asking, is it ‘sustainable’?
Last night I went to a public forum on the topic of sustainable seafood at the University of Melbourne, hosted by the Marine Sciences Association of Australia. The talk was headed up by reps from various aspects of Australia’s fishing industry, but I really went for the perspectives of passionate seafood chef, Oliver Edwards. You’ve gotta love a passionate, ethical foodie. With fellow enthusiasts, Chef Oli co-created GoodFishBadFish. It’s a great resource for learning what fish can be substituted with others, what Australian species are more sustainably grown and harvested, as well as housing reviews on seafood restaurants.
Like many such forums, I suspect that most of what was said preached the obvious, to the converted few. Yes, understanding the provenance of fish, and being able to verify labels (did you know that since 2007, there is only one legal name for each species as it can be sold in the marketplace?) are basic to discerning what might be classified as sustainable stock. Yet even a forum hosted by those most passionate about educating the public on eating good fish, struggled to provide easy and clear answers on the how, where and what you can eat with a clear conscience. Even the term “sustainable seafood” is bandied-about ‘bluewash’ and there’s pretty well grounded concern that the industry, like much of the meat world in general, thrives on the lack of accountability and transparency that runs up the human food chain, ‘seals of approval’ included.
It seems the onus for now, is on us critical consumers to actively be asking the hard, awkward, annoying questions ourselves. If you’re going to eat the fruits of the sea, Oli suggested that conversations with your local fishmonger are key. Get to know them, get them to know what you’re looking for and make it clear that you’re not going to grow complacent. Don’t settle for vague. Don’t settle for ‘yes, this is sustainable, you can eat it’. We need to be wiser than that. If you don’t know the answers, ask: where they came from, how old do they live, at what age they spawn, are they raised wild, or farmed? (BTW, aquaculture is the new norm.) If they’re deep sea creatures, live to be 100 and don’t have babies till they’re older than you – the chances are that eating that species any time soon is not cool. Further to this, learn to adapt. That recipe you want to make – does it really need that fish?
In relative terms, our domestic fisheries are much better managed than most on the planet. But when I asked the panel (rather nervously, but oh well) whether we could move beyond this notion of sustainable seafood, couched comfortably in a market economy of oversupply, to one where shortage is not a horror, but a norm – well, the room went sniffly, and a bit restless. Some panel members said they weren’t sure what I really meant, but one member did and I think he agreed. The reality is that however well-managed our domestic fisheries may be, we still import a whopping 70% of all the fish we eat. And I think that says a lot, in that we might be taking better care of our own backyard, but so long as we externalise what we can’t control – there’s some way to go yet.
So, finding the good fish. We recommend:
St Peter’s Restaurant & Bar: 6 Melbourne Place, Melbourne VIC. stpetersrestaurantandbar.com
Esposito seafood dining: 162 Elgin Street Carlton VIC. www.espositofood.com
Fish & Co. sustainable seafood cafe: 41 Booth St, Annandale NSW. www.fishandco.com.au