Australian Seafood Overview
Australian seafood - what do we eat from the sea and where does it come from?
Seafood forms a significant part of the Australian diet - we eat around 25 kg of seafood per person every year and our appetite has grown.
This seafood comes from a variety of sources with roughly three-quarters of the seafood we consume imported from a range of different countries.
Fisheries production in Australian wild capture fisheries peaked at 246,000 tonnes in 2003-04, followed by declining catches as a result of a combination of factors including decreased fishing effort, declines in certain fish stocks and changing market conditions. 157,505 tonnes of seafood from Australia’s oceans was landed in 2012. Both aquaculture production and seafood imports have steadily increased over the last 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, oysters and tuna are our next biggest fisheries and are mainly 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. The farmed Atlantic salmon sector is also the most valuable, valued at $513 million.
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.
An increase in imports has met Australia's appetite for seafood. More than 200 species of seafood are imported into Australia, of which the most significant species are prawns, salmon and tuna.
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. Denmark, New Zealand and Norway are the main sources of imported farmed Salmon. 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 now 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 from can be problematic. For example, the majority of imported squid and octopus come from China and Vietnam, and finding detailed, fishery specific and accessible information is a challenge. The Sustainable Seafood Guide provides an overall assessment of the issues in some of these fisheries.
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.
Dolphin Safe & Dolphin Friendly seafood
The 'dolphin friendly' logos evident 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.