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Seafood counter at Coles supermarket © Nicky Robinson / WWF-Aus

Seafood counter at Coles supermarket © Nicky Robinson / WWF-Aus

Fishing for facts about seafood

31 Oct 2014

  • fisheries
  • sustainable seafood

Matthew Evans in SBS TV series “What’s the Catch?” makes a strong case for more information about the sustainability of seafood in Australia. WWF agrees. The future of our seafood depends on it, not to mention the health of the oceans.


Australians love seafood. We consume around 25 kg per person every year, on average. Over two-thirds of this consumption comes from seafood imports .Although most Australian fisheries are in much better shape than those in neighboring countries, the sad truth is that many of the world’s wild capture fisheries are in decline, due to poor management.


Production from capture fisheries has remained constant since the early 1990’s, at a global level, in spite of increased fishing effort and new technology .As demand for seafood continues to rise, there’s a risk that some of our favourite wild seafood products will become more expensive if not completely unavailable.


Communities that rely on fishing for their livelihoods and food security, as well as companies involved in the seafood trade, are all at risk. For example, the Atlantic northwest cod fishery was so badly depleted that it was closed to fishing entirely in 1992, resulting in massive job losses, and is still not fully recovered.


Over-fishing and irresponsible practices can also threaten the wider marine environment. As shown on “What’s the Catch”, poorly managed fisheries often suffer from excessive “by-catch” (capture of non-target species), which is simply thrown away. If used incorrectly, fishing gear can also damage reefs and other sensitive ecosystems, as well as the marine species living there.


While many capture fisheries are in decline, due to poor management, fish farming has boomed over the past two decades to meet rising demand for seafood products. Aquaculture is equally vulnerable to bad management, of course, as seen by widespread destruction of coastal ecosystems, water pollution and disease due to fish farming.


Moreover, the feed used to raise farmed seafood often contains large quantities of capture fish, so pressure on wild fish stocks is not automatically eliminated by aquaculture.So what’s the answer?


How do we keep enjoying seafood without feeling guilty? WWF believes it’s possible to produce seafood responsibly, with less damage to the environment and better outcomes for fishing communities. That’s why we are working with seafood suppliers and retailers, both in Australia and around the world, to support improved fishing practices and responsible aquaculture.


WWF encourages everyone who enjoys seafood to choose products that are certified as meeting the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard, for wild capture fisheries, or the standard set by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), for farmed seafood. These products are entitled to carry the distinctive MSC or ASC labels, providing the best guarantee of seafood sustainability to consumers. Choosing products that carry either one of these logos means you are purchasing responsibly produced seafood that protects the marine environment.


The good news is, certified seafood products are increasingly available in Australia. For example, you can already find these MSC products in your local supermarket:

•    Prawns from the Northern Prawn Fishery,

•    Spencer Gulf prawns from South Australia,

•    Western Rock lobsters from Australia’s west coast,

•    Canned tuna and salmon products that carry the MSC logo, such as those in the Coles and John West ranges, 

•    And the majority of your favorite frozen packaged fish products, such as fish fingers, hoki and southern blue whiting fillets from New Zealand.


You can also look out for ASC certified products, such as:

•    Tassal salmon from Tasmania, which has achieved ASC certification for most of its fish farms, and

•    Coles and John West branded farmed basa, from certified farms in Vietnam.