Most of us know what to look for when it comes to choosing ‘free-range’ meat, but what about choosing the best seafood? Editor Georgia Rickard casts out a line for answers.
Imagine being able to walk into your local butcher and buy steaks of endangered animals like pandas, tigers or Tasmanian devils. There’d be public outrage! Yet many of the most popular items on our seafood menu – species such as tuna and orange roughy – are now classified as overfished; making them just as vulnerable to extinction.
It’s no secret that seafood is good for you – Australia’s health experts are consistently recommending that we eat more of it. Yet according to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS ), our oceans are in ‘a state of global crisis’. It’s a dramatic statement, but a recent report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization found that 52 per cent of global fish stocks were ‘fully exploited’, meaning that catch levels had reached, or were close to reaching, their maximum sustainable limits, while a further 28 per cent were over-exploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. In addition to that, a well-publicised study in Nature concluded that 90 per cent of the world’s big fish – species like bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks – have already been lost .
It all sounds a bit gloomy, but you don’t have to stop eating seafood – it’s simply a matter of making more informed choices when you shop.
Making better choices
Choosing ‘sustainable’ seafood involves considering many different factors. Prawns, for example, aren’t at risk of extinction, but they are caught by a destructive fishing method that kills 10–20 tonnes of marine life for every one tonne of prawns harvested, including threatened or protected species like seals and dolphins.
Meanwhile, Atlantic salmon, an introduced species farmed in Australia, is at risk of escaping in large numbers and spreading disease to native marine life. And then, there’s the fact that some sub-species are at risk, such as deep sea dory, while others, like John dory, are fine to eat! So how are you meant to know what to choose for dinner?
Don’t get overwhelmed – and don’t stop eating fish! Instead, see the table below for simple changes suggested by the Australian Marine Conversation Society (ACMS ).
The majority of supermarket seafood is imported, and while this doesn’t mean it’s unsustainable, you should take a closer look before you buy, according to Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide; particularly if it’s not expensive. And take price into consideration, suggest the authors. “Cheap seafood is often imported from unsustainable fisheries.”
What about ‘dolphin-safe’ seafood?
‘Dolphin-safe’ or ‘dolphin-friendly’ seafood is probably better than choosing seafood without the label, but this doesn’t mean that the fish are raised and/or caught without killing other marine life. Plus, many ‘dolphin-safe’ seafoods, such as tuna, are already classified as overfished! Instead, try the ACMS suggestions below.
Which seafood should I buy?
Instead of these choices...
...try these sustainable alternatives
Atlantic or Tasmanian salmon
Calamari (also sold as cuttlefish, squid or octopus)
Australian-farmed prawns, Blue swimmer or spanner crab, marron, yabbies, Moreton Bay or Balmain bugs
Commercial scallops (also sold as Southern scallops)
Oysters, mussels (also sold as blue mussels or green-lipped mussels)
Orange roughy (also sold as deep sea perch or sea perch)
Dory (also sold as deep sea dory, sea perch or oreos)
John dory, Flathead, Australian salmon
Shark - both deepwater shark and School shark (also sold as flake or boneless fillet)
Tuna (including the southern bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna varieties)
Albacore tuna (look for Marine Stewardship Council certified) or try another oily fish, such as mackerel