What needs to happen?

I do not fully subscribe to the view that we need to stop eating fish globally, (and I can’t practically comment for other parts of the world in any case….as that may well be necessary in those parts). But here in Australia, I do believe that we still have the resources for genuine sustainability.

We need to change the philosophy and direction of both the Industry participants and the Policy Makers that “bigger is better – and more efficient”. Yes, mass-catch methodology provides a ‘cheaper’ product into the market place … but at what cost to the Planet ….. is it really “cheap fish” ??

We must NOT allow the same incompetent mistakes that have permitted access to international goliaths to  come into our waters and wantonly plunder as they have in many other parts of the world.

We need to selectively catch and value-add species so that every morsel attains its absolute maximum value that it can … and without a footprint on the environment at all. Then, and only then, will we begin to optimise what Mother Nature can provide us from her Oceans, sustainably.

I literally shake in anger when I see large vessels mass-catching “cheap fish” like Jack Mackerel. This fish is mass-caught all over the world to be used for fish food pellets – predominately for the Aquaculture industry – and the financial return to these massive vessels is paltry, literally only cents per Kg.

The manufacturing exchange rate from wild fish to feed pellets has improved over the years, and is now 4 Kg of Jack Mackerel [or similar specie] to 1 Kg of feed pellets – which creates growth of 1 to 1.1 Kg of Salmon or Trout in a typical Aquaculture pen (this ratio is far worse for aquaculture Tuna). I am currently working with an organisation in an endeavour to prove the viability of growing their own fish internally, rather than consuming wild stocks. Once again, you the consumer need to be aware that product generated in an ethical and sustainable mode, with zero impact on wild resources, must be more expensive.

The illogical wastefulness of this valuable seafood resource doesn’t stop there….it’s also used as a “cheap” filler for catfood and other animal feeds.

Here’s the “kicker”. It takes 4Kg of Jack Mackerel to grow 1 Kg of Salmon or Trout. Jack Mackerel is a staple for Sashimi lovers … and is in fact one of my favourites. I individually line catch and Iki-jime treat Jack Mackerel, and sell them for more per Kg, than the Salmon or Ocean Trout that it is used to feed !!

In addition, one of these “super trawlers” will catch between 30 and 40,000 tonnes per year. The science is obviously less exact for the wild exchange growth, but it is widely accepted to be 1 : 0.3 [1Kg of wild fish consumed by a predator will create 0.3 Kg of growth in that predator]. So we then have the additional ludicrous situation of – not only pillaging of the environs, then devaluing the resource by 1000% of its potential value for every Kg, but further,  impacting on wild growth by 0.3 Kg for every Kg landed. To put that into perspective, in the case of the average “super trawler” the impact will mean that in excess of 10 Million Kgs of wild fish just will not grow.

And our authorities give these guys licences to do this stuff ?

The changes made in the egg market prove that the consumer really can drive change.

The average seafood consumer can drive similar changes if they know what they’re buying and what the consequences are of the varying methodologies used.

I am hoping to champion a change in seafood consumers’ attitude, via this website, and via my personal interaction – speaking engagements, fundraising for environmental organisations, press releases, articles, regularly updating this website,  etc.

No doubt, I will continue to be the target of Authorities, and Mass Catch operators, just as it has been for over 25 years. I still welcome debate on any of my statements, but please be aware, I have seen it all first hand … the turning of pristine water brown at 400m depth … trawl vessels towing chains over an “inconveniently located” piece of reef – to level it ….. continual shovelling over the side of magnificent Corals / Sponges / Sea Birds / and “collateral by-catch” ….. dead and undersized fish floating for as far as the eye can see – when they tow through a school of unwanted specie ….. the lack of ANY fish activity at all after the activities of large trawlers or seiners – if there is no feed left, the fish will simply disappear – to find food.  IT SIMPLY HAS TO STOP.

I must also add that many of these mass-catch guys don’t like to fish the way that they do …. we MUST  change our market place perceptions – to enable the viability for them to change their methodology.

What to ask and look for as a consumer

Simply ask

(a) is it Sustainably caught Australian product, … if the answer is Yes, then –

(b) where it was caught;

(c) how it was caught and;

(d) by which vessel

If the answer to any of these questions is not readily forthcoming, or definitive – then chances are the provider is not using sustainably, nor ethically caught products. If they were, … they would have close relationships with the vessels that they are purchasing from, and have specific food-handling requirements in place with them.

The traits to look for in a premium fish are – Full and crystal clear eyes, vibrant colour, red and easily separated gills, and full rigor mortis [when held horizontally the fish remains rigid … not “floppy”].

There are NO “better” mass catch techniques …. so don’t let them “spin doctor” you.

Food labelling

We need to lobby for the inclusion of “catch technique” and “catch vessel” for all Seafood product descriptions, … Globally … including retail sales. NOTE! MSC accreditation is not indicative of product being sustainably or ethically caught. There are supertrawlers with MSC accreditation!


Mark Eather

FB Connect