Once upon a time, fish roamed freely in the ocean. Life was pretty good – they had enough food, their waters were clean, sure they got eaten by others occasionally, but could draw comfort from the fact that were merely prey to their natural predators, and therefore within the hierarchical order of nature.
And then of course, throughout history humans have always enjoyed a spot of fishing. But in the days of old, it really was just a “spot” – catching fish for personal and local community use.
Fast forward to the present day and the fast paced world of commercial fishing. These days the reality is that over three quarters of our global fish stocks are either over-exploited or fished right up to their limit.
Aquaculture – or “fish farms” are a partial solution to this dire situation; however, our increasingly sophisticated and educated tastes fuel an insatiable desire for wild caught fish – superior in flavour, appearance and nutritional profile, and subsequently the impact on our oceans remains high.
A glimmer of hope in this worrisome situation is the movement toward sustainable seafood – meaning fish that is “either caught or farmed responsibly, at fishing levels that allow fish stocks to maintain their populations and without jeopardising the ecosystem in which they live in”.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that at present only a small percentage of global fishing resources can be classified as “sustainable”, but there is comfort to be taken from the growing awareness of this massively concerning issue by consumers and also by restaurants and chefs when procuring their seafood.
The choice to serve sustainable seafood out of restaurant kitchens goes a long way in creating positive change – motivating suppliers, influencing and informing consumers.
The reality of present day seafood consumption is this – the questions that we are used to asking when we are enquiring about fish on a menu, such as, “Is it fresh?” and “Is it local?” are redundant. The only question of importance is: “Is it sustainable?”
The vast majority of caught seafood is in fact snap frozen at sea, meaning freshness isn’t usually an issue. And the quest for local, while as we know is absolutely the first choice for the majority of fresh produce if available, simply isn’t necessarily the most ideologically sound option when it comes to fish.
The fact is that any given local fishing ground may well be extremely depleted, particular species may be massively overfished, and fishing practises may compromise other marine life and habitats.
By example, the Glacier 51 Toothfish product currently on our menu, although being fished 4,109 km away in the sub-Antarctic, is certified sustainable in both Australia and the USA, is in fact completely carbon neutral, with the fishery being certified under the Australian Government’s carbon neutral programme, and the fishery undergoes rigorous annual assessments in collaboration with the Australian Antarctic division to monitor stocks using tag and release with thousands of Toothfish.
Non-profit organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) provide a wealth of information regarding the sustainability of fish species; the AMCS even has a handy app in which you can search a huge database to check sustainability.
Choosing to purchase a species certified as sustainable by the MSC is a major step in the right direction by both independent consumers and businesses.
If we all don’t move forward together in this direction, the memories of not just the many seafood culinary delights but ocean ecosystems themselves will become just that – something from the past.