OpinionFlourishing Oceans14 Oct 2020

Australia’s embarrassing seafood problem – what are we eating and where does it come from?

All of the seafood Australia consumes must be appropriately labelled so that consumers can make informed decisions.

Photo Credit: Yulia Karnavushanka.

For a nation “girt by sea” – that loves to throw a “shrimp on the barbie” – a surprising fraction of the seafood we eat comes from abroad, with little to no information available on where it is from or how it was produced.
The majority of the seafood we eat is “hot” – eaten at food outlets – and the Australian government doesn’t currently require them to divulge its origin.

What does this mean? The “barramundi and chips” at your local fish ’n’ chip shop could be from the Northern Territory – or Thailand. It could have been caught illegally, or in waters where fish stocks are on the verge of collapse. Forced labourers living in modern slavery may have been integral to its production. It may have been farmed, requiring biodiverse mangroves to be destroyed. You have no way of knowing.

In contrast, we know exactly where our Australian seafood comes from – oysters from Coffin Bay, crayfish from Geraldton, blue swimmer crabs from Mandurah. That’s because our seafood companies are held to a higher standard in terms of supply chain transparency. But it’s also because as consumers, we take pride in knowing the origin of our national seafoods – it increases the desirability of the product.

Last month, Minderoo Foundation submitted a request to the Australian government to require all food outlets – restaurants, take-away joints, caterers, and so forth – to provide country of origin labelling. Without this extraordinarily basic information, consumers cannot make informed, ethical decisions when they eat out – and lack any power to move demand away from stocks that are overfished, illegally caught, or otherwise unethical.

The irony is that this information exists but is being lost. When raw seafood is imported, Australian regulations require it to be labelled with its country of origin and method of production. That’s why the uncooked seafood for sale in our supermarkets is clearly labelled. Now is the time to demand the same standards for the seafood we consume the most – when we eat out.

Asha McNeill
Emily Harrison
by Asha McNeill & Emily Harrison

Asha is a marine social scientist and researcher working across various Flourishing Oceans projects. Asha’s previous research experience has spanned both the natural and social sciences, focused on the human dimensions of marine protected areas and fisheries management. Asha joined us from the University of Western Australia where she was working with local WA commercial and recreational fisheries.

Emily holds a Masters Degree in International Relations from UWA and most recently held the position of Electorate Officer with the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Prior to this role Emily was an academic tutor within the Politics Department at UWA.

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