Australian seafood is under pressure. The Federal Government estimates one in six targeted species in Commonwealth waters are overfished. Yet demand for seafood is growing.
Professor David Booth
Developed by a panel of marine ecologists and fisheries scientists – including Professor of Marine Ecology, David Booth – the criteria are used to assess seafood, as part of the Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program (SASAP) hosted by UTS.
The criteria were finalised last year. At the same time, ACF began developing its sustainable seafood outreach program with restaurants. The initiative is based on the successful Canadian Ocean Wise program. It aims to take the guesswork out of choosing sustainable seafood by encouraging restaurants to include SASAP-approved seafood on their menus.
ACF Healthy Oceans Campaigner, Chris Smyth, says, “In the process of developing our outreach program, we discovered Australia lacked an assessment program that was time- and cost-effective and sufficiently independent, transparent and rigorous in its science to allow us to make sustainable seafood recommendations to restaurants with confidence and credibility.”
Booth says the SASAC uses a ‘traffic light’ system to assess the sustainability of commercially farmed and wild-caught seafood.
“Red means it’s unsustainable in that area, yellow means in general we have some issues, but we’ll give you time to pull your socks up, and green is fine.”
There’s also a fourth category, CCC – or critical conservation concern – applied only to threatened species, which the panel will not assess.
Wild-catch products are judged by stock levels, bycatch and the impact of fishing on habitats and the ecosystem. Farmed seafood is assessed for disease and parasite risk, physical site disturbance and cumulative impacts, wildlife interactions and the sustainability of wild-sourced stock and food sources.
Booth says all information used in the assessment process is publicly available, and their decisions are peer reviewed. Where data are lacking, the panel makes their own scientific assessment based on available evidence.
According to Booth, the difference between SASAC and other assessment programs is the focus on individual seafood products rather than species as a whole.
Last year, the panel launched a pilot project to test the criteria. They were applied to five seafood products – the Hawkesbury (Estuary) Squid from New South Wales, the Spencer Gulf Prawn and Coorong Yelloweye Mullet from South Australia, and farmed Barramundi and trap-caught Red Emperor from Western Australia. All have been assessed as sustainable.
Trials are now also being conducted with assessed seafood used in an in-house corporate catering operation and a large-event catering company. Booth hopes, one day, to extend the program to assess seafood sold in supermarkets.
To secure the long-term success of the assessment program, the ACF and Faculty of Science signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on 25 May.
Smyth is excited by the collaborative opportunities the MOU will provide. “The involvement of UTS staff and students beyond science, will also serve to broaden the program into areas such as design, economics and social sustainability.
“Once the assessment program is firmly established – without it we can’t establish our outreach program – it will have the remarkable potential to help drive our wild-catch and farmed fisheries towards sustainability. And reward, encourage and promote their efforts in doing so.
“It will also take the guesswork out of choosing sustainable seafood for consumers, restaurants and other catering establishments, and encourage strong links between producers and their consumers. Along that path it will help secure the supply of sustainable and high-quality seafood.”
Marketing and Communication Unit
Photographer: Joanne Saad