Dr Patrick Hone, spoke about seafood sustainability to a full house of industry professionals (including chefs and media) in an informative session in Sydney this week.
“Sustainability: what does it mean?”
If we look at a forest it’s reasonably easy to count trees, yet it is not as simple to count fish in the oceans let alone look at their relationships. Science is empirical: measurable and repeatable. And confidence is also required in the measurements and the sort of questions that are asked, he stated.
The Executive Director, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Australian Government explained that our oceans are 3rd largest in the world, with the 7th largest coastline. Australia is a hotspot for biodiversity. Our largest asset is not in volume; our strength is in diversity with 4,500 varieties of fin fish alone. There are still edible species that haven’t been utilised.
Hone went on to explain the important difference between these terms:
Overfished we can continue to fish but must have a recovery program in place
Overfishing means that we are still fishing at a higher level than sustainable
80% of world catch – 90 million tonnes wild catch and 60 million tonnes from aquaculture – is utilised for human consumption. In Australia, there are signals of success. It’s important to note, Australian catch has been constant for almost 20 years. This currently consists of 175,000 tonnes Australian wild catch and 69,000 tonnes from aquaculture. There are other takers of seafood with recreational fishing accounting for 35,000 tonnes. This includes a percentage of aquaculture (put and take – stock enhancement.) And our indigenous population, Australian Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders consume twice as much fish and seafood as an average Australian.
Hone noted the blip in our record: Orange Roughy – a deep water fish that grows slowly, ages slowly and reproduces slowly. There were lessons from the ’70s and ’80s when we allowed overfishing to occur. At that time, he said, science waited and measured, and we didn’t have sophisticated computers or models. Generic rules like fishing to 30% of original biomass was considered sustainable yield. Yet:
- not all species are the same
- not all fisheries are the same
- not all habitats are the same.
(I considered these comments and differences, as I sometimes observe northern hemisphere sustainable seafood practices trying to be applied by environmentalists in Australia.)
Some of the newer practices that Dr Hone suggested were:
- keeping smaller species at higher biomass
- some highly reproductive species (like prawns) can be taken to as low as 10% biomass
His session continued as he noted that aquaculture is a growing sector with around 600 farms in Australia. 5 he stated are managed particularly well. Two of the products – Atlantic salmon and Pacific oysters – are introduced species; the rest (such as Sydney rock oysters) are local.
On the world aquaculture market, however, it is China that leads it way in weight, growing 60% of the world’s farmed fish. China is the largest producer of shrimps (prawns) and all of that yield is eaten domestically in China.
Fishmeal in the future of aquaculture was mentioned, with Australian research currently looking at ways to reduce the “fish in – fish out” models. Hone highlighted that Australia is the first country in the world to produce sashimi grade tuna through farming. Yet the way we manage our aquaculture farms isn’t consistent he said, nor are our definitions. For example, there are 11 discrete fisheries in Australia for producing snapper. And different state have different views on sustainability and different requirements.
If there’s a take home message it is that although our definitions are not necessarily the same, “Australia is incredibly conservative about where we set the end point” Hone stated. And he noted we are well served in food security.
How do consumers know what to do? This is not trivial but the Australian government is starting to put out better information that can be more easily understood, he said. The National Fishstock Status Report will be published soon – www.fish.gov.au
The session was presented as part of 3 Winos and a Fishtale and introduced by Australian seafood guru (and ABC delicious. magazine Providore of 2012) John Susman (www.fishtales.tel)
Sustainable fast fish facts
90 percent of people who eat seafood in Australia more than twice a year
3 Australia ranking in size of its EEZ (10.2 million square km)
3 FAO Ranking of Australia’s prawn fisheries
3.4 million number of people in Australia who enjoy fishing
8 Number of agencies involved in managing fisheries in Australia
14 percent approximate area of marine parks – existing and proposed – in Australia to date
30 years that the world has had stable catches in wild fish
First MSC certified fishery in the world
3 billion people rely on seafood for 15% of their protein (FAO 2007)
80 percent of the world’s seafood production occurs in developing countries
4500 marine species in Australia waters
15 percent of Australian fisheries that have put in place management measures to address over fishing
600 commercial marine species in Australia waters
4 Australia’s Ranking Against the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries
102 billion the value of the global seafood trade (FAO 2008)
500 million dollars spent by industry and commonwealth government via FRDC research in last 20 years to ensure a sustainable industry
99 percent reduction in incidental catch over last 20 years