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Brains Trust

Questions answered by Matthew Evans of and presenter of SBS sustainable seafood documentary, What’s the Catch.

When it says pole and line fishing on a tin of tuna, what does that mean exactly and is it sustainable? (Renee, Adelaide Hills SA)

This means the tuna is caught using a mix of old-fashioned and new fishing methods that aren’t indiscriminate, but are sustainable. The important bit is that fish are caught on a fishing rod, not in a huge net, and that is probably the best way to ensure the tuna is caught from a population that is sustainable.

When we go fishing on holidays we never seem to catch many fish, yet older people talk of how decades ago they would come home with buckets of fish. What is the cause of the lack of fish in the oceans or are we just bad at fishing? (Sean, Port Macquarie NSW)

Ha! I’m bad at fishing, but it’s also because we just have a lot less life in the oceans. About 90% of fish stocks around the world are fished at maximum allowable limits, meaning we’ve depleted the resource incredibly. Most of the damage, especially in Australia, was from the 1970s to about 2000. The good news is, fish stocks can bounce back and nursery areas (no-fish zones and marine parks) are a really clever way of helping that to happen. The industrialisation of fishing, using boats that can go anywhere and with new technology, allowed us to catch way more fish in the last 50 years than was possible before. We now know we need to rest some fish and some fishing areas, to ensure wild fish stocks can recover. But we don’t always do that, even today.

What is the most sustainable fish to buy fresh and what is the best choice out of tinned fish? (Deb, Frankston VIC)

Hmm, let’s talk shellfish. Oysters and mussels actually CLEAN the water as they grow and can be a boon to the environment. They are way down the food chain, so can be responsibly grown very easily. For all fish, it’s important to look lower in the food chain, ie, smaller, faster-growing fish. It takes somewhere between 10-15 kg of sardines to produce 1 kg of certain large tuna, such as Southern Bluefin. So, when you ask about tinned fish, the answer has to be, eat the sardines!

I’ve heard flake (shark) isn’t a good option when buying fish and chips. Why is that? (Ryan, Bunbury WA)

Flake isn’t all bad. But some is. Just as all fish aren’t the same, including tuna, some sharks are fast growing, reproduce at a young age and can be caught sustainably. Gummy shark is an example. But larger sharks, which are usually older, and some other sharks, such as school sharks, are slower growing, more likely to harbour heavy metals (a factor of age) and their populations aren’t sustainable.

Are there some cases in which buying fish caught from other countries or locations, ie, not local, is better? (Sara, Dandenong VIC)

Sustainable seafood may not be local. It depends on your location, really, and what species or type of fish you want to eat. South African hake, for instance, is often responsibly sourced, and can come with Marine Stewardship Council sustainable certification. It’s a bit of a boring white-fleshed fish and not as delicious as many, but most people want white, bland fish, so sustainability is key in the choice.

Is it better to buy wild salmon or farmed salmon? I assume that eating wild salmon is better on the environment but then are we in danger of overfishing and killing out the species? (Katie, Sydney NSW)

I reckon if you live in Australia, there are far better alternatives to salmon. With oxygen-depleted waterways, using chicken meal, soy, grain and other fish to feed and grow farmed salmon, means it isn’t an ideal fish to eat. Most wild salmon fisheries in Europe and the Americas are well managed, it must be said, but it’s a long way to bring a fish if there’s a local option that is sustainable.

Can we get the same nutrients from seaweed as we get from fish? And would that be a more sustainable option? (Rachelle, Macedon VIC)

I’m not a nutritionist, but I do know some things that might help inform your choices. Seaweed is the origin of all those wonderful omega 3s that some people are keen on ingesting. So, yes, you can get a lot of that from seaweed (you also get more omega 3 from any grass-fed animal than grain-fed, incidentally). But seaweed isn’t always particularly high in protein and animal products are; so using seaweed is helpful, but only when the rest of the diet is balanced to ensure you’re getting your complete allowance of protein and vitamin B12. Some seaweeds, but not all, are complete forms of protein, so you’d have to do your homework to be sure you’re not missing out.


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