What are you REALLY buying at the fish shop? Most 'Aussie' flathead comes from South America, barramundi is from Asia and 'Pacific dory' is really a fish from Vietnam's brown Mekong Delta
Thu 16 October 2014
There's a common perception among Australians that the seafood served up to consumers is local produce.
But the reality is that Australia imports more than 70 per cent of its seafood.
In a shocking revelation, former chef and food critic Matthew Evans has revealed that the flathead, barramundi, Pacific dory and prawns sold to Australians are sourced from South America or Asia.
This is all to meet the growing appetite for seafood and the demand for cheaper produce.
Not only is this taking a toll on the Australian seafood industry but it is also putting the consumers' health at risk, according to Mr Evans.
He says lax labelling of seafood allows businesses to sell their produce while consumers are completely unaware that they are condoning poor practices in some fisheries, placing particular species under threat, destroying habitats and accepting working conditions that violate human rights.
Mr Evans says up until now, consumers have been kept in the dark about what seafood they are buying and eating.
'When we eat near the coast or in Australia, we tend to presume that it comes from nearby when the reality is that it often isn't,' he told Daily Mail Australia.
'But roughly 72 per cent of seafood that we eat is imported.
'We're a net importer of seafood and have been for a long time and that will probably increase. We are eating more seafood than we did say 20 to 30 years ago.
'I don't have a problem with imported seafood if it's produced sustainably.'
This is the motivation behind his campaign to push for clearer seafood labelling, as Mr Evans uncovers the truth behind some of Australia's favourite dishes in SBS three-part documentary 'What's the Catch?'.
However the most distressing discovery for Mr Evans was that most of the fish or flake at local fish and chips shops are from South America.
'A lot of what we eat is flake and that means we could be eating any one of 400 species of shark,' he said.
'But then I met a guy who represents the fisherman from southeast of Australia. They catch heaps of flat head in his local area but 9 out of 10 fish and chips shops don't sell the true flat head and sell the South American import.
'So you'll be in a town next to fishing boats eating fish and chips that has come from South America rather than the flat head that comes from the boats you can see at the end of the jetty.'
Oceans campaigner of Greenpeace Australia, Nathaniel Pelle, supports this claim.
'The Australian fish we all know and think we're eating is in fact a completely unrelated species called stick fish,' he told Daily Mail Australia.
'It's a fish from South America that's from a different family but is sold to us as flat head.'
Mr Pelle adds this is a similar case for basa, a native to Vietnam's Mekong Delta, which is often deceptively labelled as 'pacific dory'.
'Basa is a cat fish and isn't part of the dory family,' he said.
'But it's commonly marketed as Pacific dory because businesses aren't obliged to abide by the fish name standards.'
A Greenpeace report shows this has a greater health issue as for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers who are recommended to limit their intake of catfish, sharks and orange roughy due to its high content of mercury.
'Without correct labelling we won't know what we're eating,' Mr Pelle said.
Further research in the report reveals 68 per cent of barramundi sold in Australia is imported from Asian countries such as Taiwan and Indonesia.
As for the prawns sold in Australian eateries, such as our sushi or pizzas, it is most likely they are from Thailand.
'Sadly the poorly managed countries through South-East Asia don't have the resources to police and manage their fisheries properly,' Mr Evans said.
'Our fisheries and fish farms are at a disadvantage because they have to meet much more stringent regulations.
'Antibiotics in prawn farms are used overseas but can't be used in Australian prawn farms because they are considered dangerous within the Australian market. But then we can buy prawns from a system which allows that.
'Part of the problem from my perspective is that massive amounts of seafood has been ripped out of our system, just so we can have cheap prawns in our pizzas and sushi.'
Even local fish and chips stores are sourcing cheaper imported produce trying to keep up with the demands.
'A local told me that they have to pay $3 more to put Australian flat head rather than South American flat head on their menu for a serve of fish and chips,' Mr Evans said.
'And I know that South American fisheries are not well regulated.'
Mr Evans is backed by Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, who also launched the Label My Fish campaign on Thursday.
They are calling for Australia to follow the European Union's example of proper seafood labelling.
This means Australians will know what species they're eating, where it was caught and how it was produced.
Mr Evans believes this will help consumers make a sustainable choice before they buy their seafood.
His prime concern is that Australians aren't aware of where their produce is coming from, which prompted him to initiate a senate inquiry into seafood labelling.
'The only way we can make a conscious decision to choose sustainable seafood, is by knowing for a start, what we're eating,' Mr Evans said.
'I want people to know what they're eating so that they think about their seafood and they don't see the ocean as this bottomless pit that will provide seafood forever.
'Our choices can make a difference and all we need to do is ask what's on our plate.
'Some people won't care. They will always buy the lowest price. But until we have that information, we have no power to make that choice.'
And if we don't act now, Mr Evans says this will continue to damage our marine environment.
'It will impact us like the fisheries all over that world that are at capacity or over-fished,' he said.
'The oceans need our help. They've reached their limit.'
'So until we know what we're eating, we can't make that conscious decision because we don't know what actually is on our plate with the way the system currently stands.'
WHERE IS AUSTRALIAN SEAFOOD SOURCED FROM?
BASA: A native catfish of Vietnam's Mekong Delta, is imported to Australia and often sold as 'Pacific dory'.
BARRAMUNDI: A Greenpeace report reveals that 68 per cent of the fish is imported from Taiwan and Indonesia.
FLATHEAD: Australian flatheads aren't often sold at local fish stores, where it was discovered that most are sourced from South America. However the so-called 'South American flathead' is in fact a different species called 'stick fish'.
PRAWNS: In order to meet the demands for cheap prawns, most are imported from Thailand's prawn farms which use antibiotics.