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Sustainable seafood: a delicious fishy stew

Leeora BlackWhen my extended family gets together for dinner, a favourite request is for my husband Bob’s baked trout. He douses it with grape juice and bakes it in foil for an hour. Simple and delicious. Recently Woolworths and Coles announced moves to introduce more certified sustainable seafood options. So Bob rang our fishmonger at Victoria Market and asked them how sustainable our favourite trout is.

The trout comes from a family-run company in Tasmania and is farmed. Their website inspired our confidence, but there is no certification. Should we care?

Certification frameworks like The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and local initiatives like The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program should give comfort to consumers. Woolworths and Coles are both introducing MSC-certification and are respectively involved with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Foundation and World Wildlife Fund. Even my cat could eat certified sustainable fish now.

But how genuine is this rush by the major retailers to sustainable seafood? The commercial reality is that Coles and Woolworths want to differentiate themselves from each other. They want a competitive branding edge to deliver more sales. They are appealing to the growing market segment of the ethically conscious consumer. But will there be any real benefit beyond the check-out?


Introducing a strong sustainability dimension to Australian seafood will help sell more product by creating a new hook, line and sinker with which to reel in new consumers and sell more to existing consumers. It will also enhance the overall sustainability dimension of the supermarkets. Using a consistently applied international framework like MSC will help.

Seafood is not an infinite resource. Humans can only take so much before the capacity of the resource to renew itself is threatened. It is in the fishing industry’s best interests to operate sustainably. Not just for the environment, but for the health and longevity of their industry. It’s not rocket science. But only by customers such as Coles and Woolworths taking a hard-line approach to the sourcing of sustainable products will this change come about.

Their consistent and collectively applied leadership in this area will have ramifications for the rest of the industry. How long before MasterChef specifies MSC-certified produce for its contestants?

The fish our family eats is not certified sustainable. But we’re not changing fishmongers just yet. Our fish supplier is a family business and that’s important to support, too.

Personally I strongly welcome the sustainable seafood initiatives of Woolworths and Coles. But what would be even more sustainable is using their weight to support industry-wide sustainability initiatives so the small fry can swim with the big catch.

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