Hello, my name is Steph and I’ve been helping out at Sustainable Table for the last few months. As I’ve been wading through the incredible information that sits on Sustainable Table’s website, I’ve often found myself in a bit of a slump; wondering if I’ll ever want to eat again and feeling completely overwhelmed by the facts, the figures and the dire truth of the state of our food system. I am, however, aware that this is all vitally important information that we must read, hear, see and do something about.
Like anything, the truth is often the hardest hitting and for that reason, it can’t be ignored. Food is a gift, it gives us life, it keeps our hearts pounding and our synapses snapping – but knowing the state of our world and the impact that our current industrialised food system has on our environment, there has to be a better way for us to consume it.
As a pescatarian, gone vegetarian, gone vegan, gone vegetarian with a true vegan-beating heart, I’ve been interested to learn more about seafood, especially if the pattern of my eating trajectory is seeing me move back to a pescatarian lifestyle – which is often the case with people who choose to reduce their meat consumption. We must remind ourselves that fish is still meat and although the techniques of harvesting the world’s seafood are largely out of sight, we must open our eyes to them, in order to make informed decisions.
The ocean is responsible for generating almost half the world’s oxygen, so it deserves protecting.
So here I am, collating a great amount of the seafood information on our website and reigning in the facts to share with you. I promise I am not going to try to convince you to stop eating seafood, I just want you to feel empowered to make choices that don’t come at a huge ecological or human cost…
I want to share the small, the big and the important things…that’s all.
To dive straight in: we are currently witnessing a ticking marine time bomb. The seafood that ends up on our plate often has a terrifying backstory and is damaging our ocean ecosystem in more ways than you can imagine…
At this rate, we may have a fishless ocean by 2048, which would have dire impacts on all life on earth. The ocean is responsible for generating almost half the world’s oxygen, so it deserves protecting.
For some context and to make this hook, line and sink(er) in a little bit more (do you like what I did there…):
• 2.7 trillion marine life are pulled out of the ocean every single year
• 75% of the world’s fisheries are either exploited or fully depleted
• Bluefin Tuna have been driven to just 3% of their 1960s numbers – seeing a decline of 97%
• Today, each person eats on average 19.2kg of fish a year – around twice as much as 50 years ago
(The End of the Line’ by Charles Clover and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provided these terrifying facts)
At this rate, we may have a fishless ocean by 2048.
The devastating reality of these facts is due to decades of mismanagement and continued overfishing, ultimately reducing many marine species’ populations to the brink of extinction. Small fishing families have been muscled out by multinational supertrawlers that decimate our oceans – the romance of fishing has well and truly been lost to big business. As you can imagine, this is imperilling the entre marine ecosystem…
So, to dig a little deeper, let’s talk about
1. THE (F)ACTUAL ISSUES
• Around one-quarter of the world’s catch is actually bycatch. Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species who are thrown back into the sea, either dead or dying. It has been estimated by
WorldWildLife.org that over 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises die EACH YEAR from entanglement. 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles also die each year from bycatch devastation.
• Approximately 90% of the world’s fish stocks have already gone due to overfishing. Bluefin tuna, shark, swordfish and orange roughly are some of the most overfished species in our oceans.
• 70% of the seafood eaten in Australia is imported. To put it plainly, that is a bloody lot – that’s a whopping 200,000 tonnes of seafood each year. Using prawns as an example: environmental destruction, food insecurity, human rights abuses and illegal land-seizures are some of the problems associated with prawn farming in Asia and Latin America, ultimately where many of our prawns in Australia come from.
• Each Australian is responsible for 130kg of plastic waste every single year with only 12% of that being recycled, and some of it ending up in our oceans affecting marine life and ocean health. We’ve all seen the Business Insider states that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish (by weight).
“Ultimately, if you’re eating cheap prawns, it almost certainly comes from a turbid, pesticide and antibiotic filled, virus-laden pond in the tropical climes of one of the world’s poorest nations….” (Taras Grescoe Author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.)
2. FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO REDUCE THE PLIGHT OF OUR OCEANS
1. DIVERSIFY YOUR CHOICE AND SWITCH YOUR FISH:
When eating fish, it’s important to eat lower on the food chain to avoid the demand on apex predators. Apex predators take longer to reach sexual maturity, sit at the top of the food chain and do not have many natural predators. If they are plucked from the ocean before having an opportunity to procreate then their populations start to plummet, which disrupts the entire ocean ecosystem. Once the apex predators are affected, the prey species of those animals are affected, then their prey, and so on – the issues just keep on swimming down the food chain.
Understanding the demands of overfishing, we can’t keep eating the same 5 fish we’re used to and think that it’s a sustainable way of consuming. We need to switch our fish and eat those species that are not on the brink of extinction or that don’t arrive on our plate via ecological destruction.
Below is a guide to help you revisit your default fish selections. We recommend those to avoid and those to select:
To help you out further, the Seafood Guide App is an easy reference when you’re at the fish and chip shop, needing a hot tip or two.
Our Switch your Fish Guide is another nice resource to help you switch your seafood choices around.
2. EDUCATE YOURSELF AND ASK QUESTIONS:
Thankfully, ‘country of origin’ seafood labels are mandatory in Australia. Saying this, fishing and farming methods are still optional, so when you buy your seafood, ask your fishmonger the question:
How has this seafood been caught? This will show your retailer that you actually care.
In a similar vein, ask yourself some questions to help with your sustainable sourcing:
Are these fishing methods destructive or beneficial to our environment and ecosystems?
(for more information on fish farming techniques, read here)
How much seafood am I consuming? Can I incorporate more meat free days into my week?
Are we overfishing populations for the sake of our bellies at the expense of the environment, ecosystems and animal welfare?
Do I really need to eat this particular type of fish? What else can I eat as a more sustainable option?
This is what it means to be mindful.
The Certified Sustainable Seafood MSC label is also very good to look out for – this ensures the seafood is sustainable and traceable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent, non-profit organisation that provides certifications and eco-labelling for sustainable wild-captured seafood.
Look for the lovely oceanic-blue tick:
For more information on labelling woes, pop-over to our Sustainable Seafood page here.
3. BUY LOCAL:
Australians love seafood. So much that we eat 400,000 tonnes of it every single year. According to the Australian Government Department of Agriculture in 2019, 70% of this is imported, taking fishing practices and slave labour into question. Cheap imports are also often fished and farmed without regulation which adds to the environmental pressure placed on our oceans, fuelling the overfishing and extinction issues. Buying local ultimately encourages best practice, making it easier to trace and question, all the while supporting your local fishmonger. Have I convinced you enough? It’s better to select Australian seafood.
4. FISH IS STILL A MEAT, SO MAKE IT A TREAT:
To many people’s surprise, fish is still meat. Our blog talks a lot about the impact that meat is having on our environment – you may be interested to read ‘Meat the Issues’, here.
Fun Fact: it’s been reported that a diet that is vegetarian 5 days a week and includes meat 2 days a week would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use by about 45%.
5. BUY FRESH AND REDUCE PLASTIC POLLUTION:
Australians dispose of 1.9 million tonnes of plastic packaging every year – that’s enough to fill the MCG 9 times over…
To help alleviate this issue:
• By fresh to avoid unnecessary packing or take your own containers to the fishmonger – most are more than happy to oblige.
• Buying fresh seafood will have been caught closer to you and thus travelled a shorter distance to reach your plate; this is better for the environment, our local fisherman and is ultimately tastier for you.
Australians love seafood. So much that we eat 400,000 tonnes of it every single year. 70% of this is imported, taking fishing practices and slave labour into question – have we convinced you enough? It’s better to select Australian Seafood.
At the crux of it: choose wisely, enjoy your Sustainable Fish and for the sake of our ocean and our planet and please just reduce your darn plastic.
For some final remarks: you don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan tomorrow, but please start thinking about what is on your plate, and how it is that it gets so full…
and if this post has whet your appetite to learn more about sustainable eating, why not pop-over to our Fish and Seafood section where we embellish the facts a little further.
Lastly, I am delighted to close this post by leaving you with a little treat – a nice collation of recipes that’ll help you cook and enjoy your Sustainable Seafood.
Bon appetite (with a conscience, of course)