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Nothing fishy here: why you should eat sustainably-caught seafood

In an effort to develop a more sustainable way of living to better our planet, everything from environmentally-friendly modes of transport to sustainable building design have become important endeavours. But have you also ever considered the benefits of sustainable fishing practices when it comes to eating seafood?

With a reputation for the beach and all things coastal, Australians typically enjoy the opportunity to indulge in some quality seafood. Filling up on the oily goodness that is omega-3 fatty acids means you can walk – and not roll – home after tucking in at your local fish and chip shop.

Surprisingly, however, Australians generally eat very little seafood compared to other countries – about 15kg per person each year, which is half of Mediterranean countries and a quarter of most Asian countries. Still, the most popular time of year Aussies enjoy a bit of seafood is Christmas.

‘Some Australians celebrate Christmas with a seafood feast, rather than a more traditional roast, so we are tending to eat a little bit more,’ Professor Giovanni Turchini from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, says.

But making a conscious decision to purchase sustainable seafood at any time of the year means caring about the environment, food safety, sustainability, social responsibility and nutrition. So how do you know where your fish is from and whether it’s been caught using sustainable fishing practices?

'Become personally more informed about seafood and about food in general – bombard sellers with questions and make your final statement with your wallet.'

Professor Giovanni Turchini,
Deakin University

What counts as sustainable seafood?

It’s good to know that Australia practices sustainable fishing through well-managed fisheries that have set annual quotas, monitored by fishing authorities. Prof. Turchini explains that when it comes to Australian aquaculture (fish farming) you can be reassured that it’s among the most sustainable animal food you can get.

Any Australian-farmed seafood is sustainable, from Atlantic salmon farmed in Tasmania to barramundi farmed in Queensland. Prof. Turchini advises, ‘you can eat Australian-farmed shrimps, oysters and mussels, and if you would like to try something different, indulge in farmed Murray cod or put another yabby on the barbie.’

When it comes to wild-caught seafood, the advice is to go for Australian-caught squid (calamari), which is one of the most sustainable seafood you can get. Low trophic (those that consume algae, plants and zooplankton), short-lived species, such as molluscs (mussels, oysters and squid), crustaceans (prawns and yabbies), pilchards, whiting, mullet, Australian salmon and flathead are all good sustainably-caught seafood you can enjoy.

What should you avoid? 

Typically, species to avoid are things like flake, as many sharks are heavily exploited; and stay away from long-lived species, such as orange roughy. You should also be sceptical if the supplier can’t answer questions regarding the source of their produce, or if the price is suspiciously low.

When it comes to eating out at restaurants, Prof. Turchini advises caution: ‘Unfortunately restaurateurs often make up their own reality. I’ve been offered “locally wild-caught barramundi” in south-west Victoria. Barramundi are tropical fish and only live in the northern part of the country – they would freeze in minutes in the waters of south-west Victoria!’

The secret, he says, is ‘to become personally more informed about seafood and about food in general – bombard sellers with questions and make your final statement with your wallet’. Start with the simple question ‘where is it from?’ and take it from there.

The food you eat determines who you are and your health, and your purchasing choices are the most powerful tool you have to affect this world. And who knows, maybe making a conscious decision to purchase sustainable seafood might make it taste just that little bit better. So go on, chuck another [Australian-farmed] shrimp on the barbie, mate!

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Professor Giovanni Turchini
Professor Giovanni Turchini

Associate Head of Research, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Deakin University

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