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Loaves and Fishes

Can we have our fish and eat them too?


Loaves and Fishes

Are we loving our seafood to death? Learn how to choose fish for the future this summer

Are we loving our seafood to death? Learn how to choose fish for the future this summer.

Australians have never eaten more seafood. Packed with beneficial oils, lean and protein rich, fish is frequenting our dinner tables and lunchboxes like never before. Yet is the ocean the limitless bounty we imagine?

While we are all the better from our regular fish feasts, the vital signs of the sea are not so robust. Rather than the magic pudding it once seemed, experts are pointing to increasing evidence that our oceans are chronically overfished, with many commercially fished species in danger of collapse.

So can we have our fish and eat it too? According to the newly updated Australian Sustainable Seafood Guide we can continue to get our fish fix—we just need to learn how to be fish friendly shoppers.  

Life sustaining seafood

Australians have a healthy love affair with seafood. Literally.

The significant health benefits of a high seafood diet were first noticed three decades ago when scientists studying the Greenland Inuit discovered that despite a high fat consumption, their seafood-rich diet was responsible for very low rates of heart disease and a reduced risk of blood clots.

The magic ingredient was found to be the long-chain (LC) omega-3 fatty acids contained in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines and salmon.

Since this discovery the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has confirmed the positive impacts of LC omega-3 fatty acids on heart health includes

  • protection against death from heart attack by reducing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms
  • lowering of high blood pressure inhibiting the processes that lead to atherosclerosis

In the largest of the CSIRO trials fish oil supplements reduced cardiac death by half.

According to the CSIRO Healthy Heart Program the recommended daily intake of LC omega-3s for Australians is about 500 mg, with the current average intake in Australia estimated to be only 100 to 200 mg a day. To obtain sufficient amounts, CSIRO suggests at least two meals of oily fish a week at both lunch and dinner.

But can our oceans cope with the increased demand?

Feast or famine—our oceans in crisis

There is a general agreement among marine scientists that our oceans are in poor shape, with many salty sea inhabitants currently suffering from the effects of overfishing and associated environmental impacts.

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), three-quarters of the world’s fish stocks are now overexploited or fished right up to their limit, with very few fisheries actually certified as sustainable. In Australia alone, 15 species of fish are classified as overfished or subject to overfishing.

Not only are modern fisheries removing many more fish from the sea than are being replenished, but hundreds of millions of non-target (by-catch) marine wildlife, such as sharks, turtles, dolphins and seabirds, are being caught incidentally through destructive fishing practices.

Aquaculture, once held up as the answer to diminishing wild catches, can have significant environmental impacts. Prawn farming in Asia for example, which is the source of most of our frozen prawns, is destroying vast tracts of coastal mangroves in the process.

The solution—sustainable seafood

The good news is that we have a choice.

Marine campaigner for AMCS, Tooni Mahto is spearheading the push for Australians to become fish friendly by using a simple Sustainable Seafood Guide when shopping.

“Australians love eating seafood and it’s a great thing to celebrate the bounty of the oceans, but we need to be mindful of the way we source our seafood.”

“Dollars equal power, and so far an estimated one million Australians have been using the Sustainable Seafood Guide to make ethical choices about their seafood consumption. This kind of pressure is being felt all the way down the food chain.”

The guide is a result of a rigorous scientific assessment of over 100 species of commercially caught fish or shellfish according to their impact on fish populations and the wider marine environment. It divides seafood into three categories: a green “Better Choice”, an amber “Think Twice” option and the red “Say No” listing.

While there are plenty of green alternatives, the red listing for tuna may require many of us to cast our nets wider for lunch options rather than rely on the quick and easy can.

Says Mahto, “Tuna steaks are widely considered one of the nicest fish to eat, but unfortunately the popularity of this top quality fish fillet has led to substantial declines in tuna populations around the world, with some species at collapsing point.

“Long-line fishing of tuna results in many unintended casualties, such as threatened species of turtle and shark. A better choice is to reach for a can of Australian sardines or red salmon”, advises Mahto.

“Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that the oceans can continue to nourish us into the future.”

Top tips for fish-friendly shopping

Better Choice 
Think Twice
Say No
  • whiting  
  • mussels   
  • oysters
  • sardines  
  • blue swimmer crab
  • calamari
  • trevally
  • red and pink salmon 
  • blue-eyed cod 
  • barramundi   
  • ocean perch
  • prawns
  • Nile perch
  • basa
  • blue warehou (sold as deep sea perch)
  • tuna
  • gemfish
  • orange roughy (sold as deep sea perch)
  • blue grenadier
  • hake
  • Atlantic salmon

The sustainable seafood guide is now available as a free iPhone app; just search for “Sustainable Seafood Guide” on iTunes. Otherwise download your guide at, or order a hard copy for $9.95 online.

Celebrity chefs join the swelling tide

Guy Grossi is one of many well-known Australian chefs helping turn the tide on the demise of marine wildlife. Grossi has found it relatively pain-free to switch to sustainable options.

“Seafood is a versatile product, and there are many varieties that can be substituted into different recipes with wonderful outcomes. A tortellini filled with mud crab can make a wonderful dish for an Australian Christmas”, says Grossi.

“I hope to be able to have the best products to enjoy into the future and for my family and future chefs also to experience.” Grossi adds, “If we are able to make a choice today then we know we can eat fish and seafood in the future as well.”

A favourite summer dish of Grossi’s is King George Whiting Beccafico. “When the warm weather starts to arrive we welcome it, and the wonderful new produce it brings. Whiting is light and delicate in flavour and texture. The flesh is often referred to as sweet because of its suppleness. It’s great served on its own, with crushed peas or a light salad.”

King George Whiting Beccafico

This dish uses some wonderful Sicilian flavours with the filling of bread crumbs, pine nuts and sultanas. Similar versions of this recipe use sardines, which is somewhat more traditional.

2 1/2 cups (250 g) stale bread loaf
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp (200 ml) olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 chilli, chopped
1 lemon
1 1/4 cups (50 g) coriander, chopped
1 3/4 cups (200 g) pine nuts
1 1/4 cups (200 g) sultanas

Cut crust off bread and blend in a food processor.

Heat oil in frypan and sauté breadcrumbs in olive oil until golden and crispy. Add garlic, chilli, zest of lemon, coriander, pine nuts and sultanas and sauté for a few minutes. Finish by mixing in juice of the lemon. Let cool.

Crushed peas
2 1/2 Tbsp (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup (175 g) onions, cut brunoise*
1 1/2 tsp (5 gm) garlic, chopped
3 1/4 cups (500 g) peas
1 tsp (1 g) mint, chopped
3 tsp (15 ml) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (160 ml) stock
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

*Brunoise (broon-WAHZ) refers to a type of very small dice—typically about 2 mm squares . The vegetable is first julienned, turned a quarter turn then diced.

Heat olive oil in a pan. Add onions and garlic; sauté a few minutes until onions are translucent (but not brown). Add peas, mint and butter and mix. Deglaze pan with stock and season to taste. Cook until most of the liquid has gone.

Place in food processor and pulse once or twice until peas have a crushed appearance, but not a purée or mashed appearance.

King George Whiting
18 King George whiting fillet
2 1/2 Tbsp (50 ml) olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
2 lemons

Preheat oven to 180 C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Skin and pin bone the whiting fillets (or ask the fish monger to pin bone the fish when you purchase it).

Place fillets on a chopping board skin side up, and sprinkle the crumbs over the fillets. Place on their side on a tray lined with grease-proof paper and top up with some extra crumbs. From the tail end, roll up keeping as much of the crumbs on the fillets. Place on a tray lined with greaseproof paper on their side and top up with some extra crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

—Reprinted with permission from Guy Grossi



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