For many years, there has been growing public concern about overfishing and its impact on our oceans and wildlife. Three- quarters of our global fish stocks are either over-exploited or fished right up to their limit, in particular the favoured larger species such as tuna, swordfish and cod. Many fisheries are in rapid decline, with experts predicting resource collapse within 50 years if consumer habits do not change fast.
Certain fisheries, however, remain sustainable. These are primarily the smaller schooling fish, such as herring, sardines and mullet, of which stocks remain bountiful. These are the fast-growing, highly productive species, that are targeted with minimal bycatch. Sustainable seafood is not just about fish populations, but also about the way in which the fish are caught, the impact on the seafloor and other marine wildlife, and how fishing affects the healthy and natural functioning of marine ecosystems. Bycatch, where species other than those targeted are caught up in fishing gear, kills hundreds of millions of animals every year, including unwanted fish, corals, turtles, dolphins and seabirds.
Aquaculture, or farming seafood, is often held up as the solution to the global fishing crisis, and indeed the sector has expanded rapidly. Between 1980 and 2010, world aquaculture fish production expanded by almost 12 times. However, its sustainability is often questionable, as the practice depends on a continued supply of wild caught fish as feed, the input often at a higher ratio than the output, and aquaculture practices can also have damaging impacts on surrounding natural ecosystems.
Consequently, there is a growing consumer demand for fish choices that are sustainable, wild-caught and environmentally friendly. But also choices that support local fishermen, as opposed to the huge corporate trawling operations that are responsible for much of the industry’s overfishing.
The Australian restaurant industry has responded to this growing awareness by launching the Good Fish Project in partnership with the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMSCS). Under the project, 40 of Australia’s top chefs have pledged to only serve sustainable sourced fish on their menus, and avoid any species red-listed by the AMSCS.