Published: 5th March 2011
This week heralds the opening of the prawn season and fishers will be at sea for the next three weeks before bringing back the first bounty of prawns of the season. These fabulous morsels are the culinary icons of our region and to consume or serve an imported alternative should be deemed as sacrilege.
Strangely enough there is a assumption that our fishing industry does not care about over fishing and the extinction of a seafood, but that if far from the truth. With the exception of a minute number of rogue fishers, the Queensland seafood industry as a whole care very much for the ‘hand that feeds them’ and have self monitored and governed their fishing areas for many years and in 2001 a local group formed Eco-fish to formalise their activities. The Australian fishing industry is possibly the most regulated of its kind in the world and thus we have seasons, quotas and environmental regulations for each fishing sector. Hence the prawn season!
A publication of the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s (AMCS) Sustainable Seafood Guide recently caught my attention with over 100 species relegated to the categories of Better Choice, Think Twice, or Say No. I was surprised to see such a large number of seafood condemned to the Think Twice, or Say No category, so my scepticism led me to investigate.
Fortunately I didn’t have to look very far to find Nick Ruello who lives in Cairns and is a former fisheries scientist, Sydney fish merchant and consultant. For the past 45 years he has worked with many Australian businesses and national and international R & D projects on fisheries management and seafood processing, marketing, and quality assurance. He is a Slow Food member and acts as a seafood advisor on the Ark of Taste program. He is a founding member of the Australian Society for Fish Biology and a board member on two seafood industry organizations. He has an MSc degree from Sydney University and lesser qualifications in various fields.
Mentioning this publication touched a raw nerve with Nick. As he explains “Quite a few of their assessments are poorly founded and many of the Think Twice recommendations are so vague and general they are of little use” Nick gives the example “All trawl caught prawns are relegated to the Think Twice category although Australian trawlers are world leaders in sustainable harvesting, by-catch reduction and minimising environmental impacts and the major fisheries pass the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act assessment”.
Nick contrasts the AMCS approach with the considered, constructive efforts being made by the Australian Conservation Foundation in collaboration with government fisheries managers, the University of Technology Sydney and the seafood industry to guide consumers to more sustainable seafood choices
It is concerning when a ‘guide’ can be published with misleading information that can impact on an industry and on what we feel comfortable with at our dinner table. A full report of Nick’s findings can be found at www.australiantropicalfoods.com news page. So in three week, grab a kilo of fresh prawns and ‘enjoy’.