The sustainable outlook
Plenty more fish…
This article recently ran in the Selector Magazine. We have added it here in full. You can read the article here
In Australia, seafood plays a central role in the cuisine of our culture. From beach side fish and chips, prawns on the barbecue or fine dining restaurants, we are proud of our quality seafood and the rich culinary opportunities it offers. Despite good intentions, I find that people are often quite tentative about cooking fish at home, and the results do not always do justice to the beautiful jewelled specimens packed on the ice displays. There is also little information about how to select the best fish for the environment. Choosing the right fish to cook is already a bit of a minefield. Should it be whole, or fillets, farmed or wild? Add to this whether it is sustainable, and what results is an obvious anxiety which is etched onto the faces of those in the fishmongers queue.
Awareness of global sustainable seafood issues is growing. Australian consumers are now demanding more evidence of where their food comes from and how it was produced. This quest for environmental provenance is a key factor in making the right everyday seafood choices. Being sustainable is essential to our daily life, it is not highbrow or a one-off special purchase. Instead it comes right down to the fish chosen for family barbecues and the canned tuna that is used in your children’s lunchbox.
Environmentally responsible seafood production has hit the mainstream in the UK and Europe, where very public TV campaigns have resulted in supermarkets having to transform their fish buying policies. The supermarket chain Sainsbury’s recently ran a very popular promotion called ‘Switch the Fish.’ Customers who wanted to buy any of the three most popular species of fish, namely cod, salmon or tuna, were offered, for free, a more sustainable alternative species such as coley, hake and pollock. The promotion had a 70 percent take up of customers who then returned to buy the more sustainable species.
In Holland all the fish sold has to be certified as sustainable by 2014. The good news is that Australian and New Zealand fisheries are generally well managed, however, Australia also imports a huge amount of fish and seafood whose provenance is more of a murky issue, and we need to broaden our culinary approach to different types of fish.
In Australia, we still only eat a very small percentage of the fish species available. This, in turn, puts pressure on a few species. By choosing fish and shellfish that is less reliant on so many other species for its own survival, we are helping to relieve pressure on wild fish stocks.
At a recent sustainable fish masterclass, one student said they had always avoided cheaper fish, thinking them inferior. This is not the case if you are buying your fish from good fishmongers that smell of the sea, rather than old fish. Often lesser-used species are fast maturing, quick to breed and have a high biomass. (They swim in bigger shoals and there are more of them.) These fish are often the target species for bigger marine predators. I think this is a good sign for the eating qualities of these smaller, cheaper fish. If tuna and marlin like to eat them, why shouldn’t we?
Leatherjacket are sweet tasting with a great firm texture, perfect for an Italian fish stew. You can always ask your fishmonger to fillet them as they have a slightly fiddly bone structure around the spine. At Fish & Co we use them in a number of dishes and customers often ask what that ‘delicious fish’ was. Each fillet divides simply into a larger and smaller piece either side of the bone. You could marinate the larger pieces to grill, and cut the smaller side into cubes for a curry.
Mackerel, when fresh, are brilliant fish and great for the barbecue, either whole or as fillets. They are at the cheaper end of the scale, often at less than $10 per kg. Given that each fish will probably weigh 200-250g, you can feed a number of people in a very sustainable manner both for your wallet and the ocean’s future.
The sustainable credentials of mackerel are well known as it and other oily fish are fast maturing, and commercially under utilised. And packed full of essential omega 3, they are very good for you. Use them when very fresh, with firm, taut skin and bright eyes. Mackerel work with salty, sour and hot sauces and garnishes, which will cut through the richness of the flesh. Try them simply grilled with a horseradish and lemon dressing. They are also very good hot smoked.
Some fresh sea mullet fillets make delicious eating and are a very sustainable table option. Like mackerel, they are massively under-utilised, largely due to their unfortunate name. They are often wrongly considered an inferior fish and one that can only be used as bait. But many who hold this opinion have never actually eaten fresh sea mullet. Our diners love it roasted with a crispy skin. Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern recipes are always popular as there are so many great dressings and vibrant vegetable and herb dishes that can go alongside. The richness of the flesh works well with spices and needs to be balanced with salt and sourness. A complex balance of flavours and textures is important to make your dish exciting and leave your guests wanting more. Try roasting a fillet with some dried Indian spices such as ground coriander or cumin. Serve with a vivid salad of cucumber, fresh herbs, and pomegranate.
Mussels are one of the most perfect sustainable sources of protein with the shortest food chain of any seafood product. Mussels convert marine algae into themselves. It is the cold nutrient rich currents that enable growth so they do not have to be fed, like many other cultivated aquaculture products. Mussels don’t rely on any other complex naturally occurring food sources that could become environmentally threatened. Spring Bay organic mussels are delicious blue mussels from the east coast of Tasmania. Plump, meaty and sweet, we use them in a number of dishes such as spicy udon noodles with chilli jam, ginger and Thai basil. They are sold in pot-ready vacuum packed bags so are perfect for the home meal or the domestic gourmet.
Another affordable, easily accessible source of sustainable seafood is wild caught prawns from the Northern Prawn fishery. The NPF is the first tropical prawn fishery in Australia to receive full sustainable certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. Banana prawns, Tiger and Endeavor prawns scored some of the highest points for environmental sustainable integrity. These scores were pitted against the internationally respected MSC system, which is a third party audit that guarantees fisheries as being sustainable. Achieving MSC certification for Tiger, Endeavour and Banana prawns makes these prawns visible and exciting for new consumers focused on provenance.
How and where these prawns are caught has led to them gaining this coveted international eco label. Much research has been done on the nets used so that turtles and sharks and other important sea creatures are not caught as by-catch. The prawns are harvested in areas that are away from their spawning grounds, thus allowing the prawns to successfully breed long before capture. The mature prawns grow quickly in the nutrient rich waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. They are caught towards the end of their natural life cycle. In fact, if they were not harvested, they would soon naturally die.
This Partnership between the most iconic Australian seafood – prawns – and the internationally respected eco label of the MSC is very important for consumers. These prawns are now widely available at major supermarkets and other seafood suppliers. Every barbecue in Australia can now be sustainable.
The sustainable outlook
When consumers are making reliable, affordable, ethical choices on a daily basis our marine environment’s future will become part of the collective consciousness. Sustainability is not a political move; it is a practical step to ensure the long-term viability of our fish and seafood. I have worked alongside many fisheries that have made their sustainable status very public and they have all benefited greatly from this move.
Consumers must be socially responsible stewards for marine sustainability to ensure the future of our everyday seafood choices. We need to be profoundly conscious of our role in handing a healthy planet to our next generation. This shows that ecological and ethical provenance is key, and something that is available to the general public.
For more information about seafood sustainability and how to navigate the minefield of how to eat fish and be ethical, visit fishandco.com.au or just drop in to Fish & Co in Sydney.