What is sustainable seafood?

There is no singularly agreed definition of seafood sustainability. However, at its simplest sustainability means to be able to continue production into the future at a rate that the environment can replenish the system, while having limited negative impacts on the environment.

The FRDC with stakeholders that included fishers, government and environmental groups agreed to a common view on what ecologically sustainable wild seafood was. It was not a single definition, rather a framework that looked at ensuring impacts across five key elements were at acceptable levels. These elements are: target and by-product species, bycatch species, threatened, endangered and protected species, aquatic habitat, and aquatic ecosystems.

How is sustainability assessed?

Every few years the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) produces Status of Australian Fish Stocks (SAFS) reports and publishes these at fish.gov.au. The reports are based on a consistent national reporting framework developed by fisheries scientists across Australia. These reports bring together all the available information on Australia’s key wild catch fish stocks and give a rating (and colour) to each species.

Status of Australian Fish Stock (SAFS) classification framework
Color Stock Status Simplified Definition
 

SUSTAINABLE

 

Fish stock size (biomass) is above a minimum level (limit reference point) for the stock, and fishing pressure is adequately controlled (there is no overfishing)


DEPLETING

Fish stock size is above a minimum level (limit reference point) for the stock, but fishing pressure is too high


RECOVERING

Fish stock size is too low but fishing pressure is adequately controlled and stock is recovering


DEPLETED

Fish stock size is too low and fishing pressure too high, or fishing pressure has been reduced but recovery not yet detected


UNDEFINED

Not enough information available to make a reliable assessment

 

NEGLIGIBLE

Catches are so low as to be considered negligible

For a full description of the SAFS classification system see How are the Status of Australian Fish Stock Reports done on the SAFS website.

 

It is important to note that Australia continues to refine and improve its approach to adopt a more ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, which examines fishing practices not just on the target species, but also on the environment and other related species.

How does Australia rate on sustainability?

Australia is among the top four countries in the world for management of wild fisheries. However, it is important to note that one measure does not mean the job is finished. Fisheries are constantly changing and require constant monitoring – state, territory and commonwealth fishery agencies also undertake regular assessments. The Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports are also undertaken every two years.

For the 2018 SAFS (Status of Australian Fish Stocks) Reports almost 80% of the 406 stocks (120 species) were able to be assessed. Of the stocks assessed around 80% were rated sustainable (green).

Only seven percent are depleted (red) and work is being done to rectify this (FRDC 2016). Despite Australia’s great record and diverse range of species, the reality is domestic production is actually very small. This means the majority (70-75%) of seafood we eat is imported (mostly frozen fillets and prawns, also canned and fresh). There is room to increase our consumption of local catch.

As of July 2018, the Australian Government also reports its progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals using the Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports.

How can I check the sustainability of a specific species?

The SAFS website provides access to not only the top line results, but also all the information that supports the rating. You can also download the SAFS app, just search SAFS Sustainable Fish Stocks in the Google Play Store or the App Store.

Very important to note that the sustainability status of a species can vary from stock to stock and state by state. Therefore, if you are concerned ask where the fish was caught, then check the status on the App or website.

Practice tip: Put together a list of local seafood products you can confidently recommend as nutritious and sustainable

 

How do I know a species is local?

Fresh and packaged seafood is required to show Country of Origin. Fresh seafood in a retail setting must clearly show if it is Australian or Imported. Packaged seafood needs to use the Country of Origin Label – the green kangaroo in a triangle logo that indicates the percentage of seafood caught or produced in Australia.

Grown in Australia logo 

Country of Origin Labelling does not apply to seafood sold in a food service setting such as a restaurant or take-away shop (except in the Northern Territory). If the Country of Origin is not obvious, just ask where the seafood is from when ordering.

What about farmed seafood?

Seafood farming is called aquaculture, while seafood caught in their natural habitats are called wild-caught. Over 40 species of seafood are commercially farmed in Australia, with Atlantic salmon making up the largest amount at around 55% of total volume. Other species include oysters, prawns, mussels, barramundi, silver perch and Murray cod.

Aquaculture is one of the most sustainable primary production method in the world.

Australian aquaculture is tightly regulated. The FRDC and key industry stakeholders have in place ongoing research programs to improve practices and sustainability. Like all forms of food production like farming, they require constant monitoring to ensure best practice. One key area that is very important to aquaculture is water quality and this aspect has attracted controversy, such as salmon farming on Tasmania’s east coast. Government monitors run off, algal blooms and discharge from farms – all that can affect the environment and seafood production.

To reinforce their sustainability credential Australia’s major aquaculture companies have sought to have their farms certified by independent third-party certification – this includes Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practice and Global GAP.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports 61% of the Australian salmon market is now ASC certified.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is an international independent, not-for-profit organisation that manages the world’s leading certification and labelling program for responsible aquaculture.

What about canned seafood?

Canned seafood is a nutritious and convenient option. Canned salmon, sardine, herring and mackerel are good sources and canned tuna is a moderate source, of long chain omega-3s. Most canned seafood contains imported product and you can check the label for the Country of Origin, as well as sustainability certification, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo.