Seafood in Australia
Seafood forms a significant part of the Australian diet. We eat around 15 kg of seafood per person every year and our appetite is growing.
Our seafood comes from a variety of sources, with around 65% of the seafood we eat imported from overseas.
Fisheries production in Australian wild capture fisheries peaked at 246,000 tonnes in 2003-04. Since then we’ve had declining catches due to a combination of factors, including decreased fishing effort, declines in certain fish stocks and changing market conditions. In the year 2016-17, Australian fisheries landed 166,022 tonnes of seafood from our oceans. Aquaculture production has continued to increase over recent years, doubling in the past decade.
Australian wild caught seafood
Of the top ten fisheries by weight, Australian sardines are by far our biggest catch, but are mainly used to make feed for farmed fish such as southern bluefin tuna. Prawns and rock lobster are our next biggest fisheries, with rock lobster being mostly exported. Of the fish caught in our waters and predominantly eaten in Australia, the largest catches are of shark, mullet and flathead.
Australian aquaculture seafood
In 2011-12, farmed Atlantic salmon farmed in Tasmania overtook Australian sardines as the number one seafood from Australia by weight, with over 41,000 tonnes produced. In 2016-17 around 52,799 tonnes was produced, worth $756 million in total.
A number of other fish are farmed, including rainbow trout, southern bluefin tuna and barramundi. Several shellfish are also grown in Australian aquaculture, notably oysters, mussels and prawns.
A general increase in imports over the past decade has met Australia’s appetite for seafood. More than 200 different species of seafood are imported into Australia, the most significant species groups being prawns, fish fillets, squid, octopus and tuna, which is mostly canned.
Over half of imported fish by value are fresh, chilled or frozen, while approximately 40% arrives in cans. New Zealand is a significant source of Australia’s imports of fresh and frozen fish (predominantly hoki, salmonids and shark), with South Africa, Argentina and Namibia also contributing large volumes of hake. Imports from China and Vietnam have increased over recent years, dominated by imports of frozen prawns, squid and octopus.
Tuna is our major canned seafood import, with the majority coming from Thailand. Other major canned imports are salmon, mainly from the USA, and sardines, mainly from the UK.
Australia imports more seafood than we produce for domestic consumption. Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide includes assessments of the sustainability of the major imported produce available on our supermarket shelves, in restaurants and in our fish and chips.
However, sourcing information on the fisheries from which much of our imported produce comes can be problematic. For example, the majority of imported squid and octopus come from China and Vietnam; finding detailed, fishery-specific, accessible information is a challenge. Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide provides an overall assessment of the issues in some of these fisheries. In addition we are working with our partners in the Global Seafood Ratings Alliance (GSRA), an alliance that includes members in China, Japan, Europe and the Americasto source information.
Greenpeace take a look at the practices involved in fishing for the species of tuna mainly used in canned produce, and provide information on which brands of tuna are best to choose.
Seafood at the Supermarket?
Dolphin Safe & Dolphin Friendly seafood
The ‘dolphin friendly’ logos on most canned fish, particularly tuna, are not a measure of sustainability. While dolphin friendly seafood is caught in ways that minimise the number of dolphins killed, they may still catch threatened species such as sharks or turtles. The ‘dolphin friendly’ logo also does not give any indication of overfishing. Although some companies try to do the right thing, there is no independent regulation of the use of dolphin friendly labels.