What you need to know about sustainable seafood
New Zealand is on its way towards a more sustainable seafood industry, with help from Forest & Bird and some dedicated suppliers. We meet some of the fishers and farmers leading the way.
Sustainable seafood – oxymoron or achievable goal? Forest & Bird believes the latter and is working with New Zealand fish and shellfish suppliers to ensure produce is caught or farmed without damaging the environment or fish stocks, so Kiwis can continue to enjoy the spoils.
The local seafood industry faces many issues, including overfishing, habitat destruction and bycatch of threatened species. Forest & Bird’s Best Fish Guide 2017, which ranks commercially caught or farmed seafood in order of sustainability, paints a sobering picture, with only a small number of species classed as ‘good’ or ‘best’ choices and many classed as ‘worst choice’.
The promising thing, says Katrina Goddard, marine biologist and lead researcher on the guide, is that since Forest & Bird has been working with the seafood industry, some species have moved out of the ‘worst choice’ category, and many suppliers have made changes for the better.
To compile the guide, wild seafood was analysed using six criteria, including sustainability of catch, ability to recover from overfishing, fishing method impact, and bycatch of protected and threatened species. Aquaculture produce was analysed using eight criteria, including sustainability of fish feed, effect on water quality, effect on genetic diversity, and biosecurity issues.
The guide, which is available online or as an app (we have listed some of the more common species at left), details the issues each species faces and provides alternative choices and recipe ideas. Changes since the 2013-2014 guide include the differentiation of species by region and fishing method (which gives more edible options), and the inclusion of freshwater species (eel and whitebait), because of the need for awareness concerning the overfishing or non-management of these.
Longline fisherman Dave Moore, who owns Wild Fish New Zealand, is one of the suppliers working to move a species out of the ‘worst choice’ category. He and a number of longline fishermen have been working with groups such as the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to help minimise the risk to seabirds posed by longline snapper fishing. Initiatives have included training crew, altering fishing techniques and trialling the use of onboard cameras to show that seabirds are not being caught as bycatch.
Endangered black petrels are most at risk of being caught by longlines, and at the time of publication of the Best Fish Guide, too many birds were still being killed for longline snapper to move out of the ‘worst choice’ category. Katrina and Dave think this is partially because of a time lag in the MPI data available to Forest & Bird for analysis, as the efforts undertaken have proven successful in mitigating the risk to seabirds. Forest & Bird hopes to be able to update the guide to move longline-caught snapper up the ranking, once data proves that this fishing method is not a risk to seabirds.
Dave, a second-generation fisherman, has been longline fishing for 35 years, and has run his own fleet of boats for 25 years. “We’re the little artisans of the fishing industry,” he says.
He employs around 20 crew and has six boats operating along the northeast coast from the North to East Capes. He supplies his catch exclusively to Leigh Fisheries, which delivers it to some of the best restaurants in the country – including Auckland’s Orphans Kitchen, Wellington’s Logan Brown and Taupo’s Huka Lodge – and exports it around the world, including to US health-food supermarket chain Wholefoods. Leigh Fisheries’ whole fish is labelled with the boat and fisher who caught it and the catching method, providing the transparency the upper end of the market expects.
With farmed seafood, the risk of overfishing is minimised, but there are still environmental implications. Fish feed contains fish oil and fish meal, which is often sourced using unsustainable fishing methods. However, some farms, such as High Country Salmon near Twizel, are working to reduce the amount of fish oil in their feed and are actively sourcing more sustainable food.
High Country Salmon’s freshwater salmon is listed as one of the Best Fish Guide’s ‘good choices’. Fish are grown in a freshwater hydro system, so the water is used to make electricity as well as breed fish. On-site is a floating shop and cafe, where salmon can be bought, and seafood chowders and salmon curries fly out the door. The farm is popular with tour groups and attracts around 1000 visitors a day in summer. If you’re not in the vicinity, salmon can be bought from the company’s online store (highcountrysalmon.co.nz) or sampled at restaurants such as those at Auckland’s SkyCity.
Topping the list as the guide’s ‘best choice’ is farmed paua. Moana New Zealand Blue Abalone, based in Bream Bay near Whangarei, is the country’s only commercial paua farm. It is also the first aquaculture company in New Zealand (and the fourth paua producer in the world) to achieve Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification, a rigorous process during which all aspects of a company’s sustainability are audited.
“ASC certification is recognised worldwide as the ‘gold standard’ for responsible aquaculture production in every respect, including best farming practice and environmental responsibility,” says Michelle Cherrington, communications manager for Moana New Zealand. ASC has strict requirements in place for fish feed which state that all fish meal must be a byproduct and fish oil is to be used only minimally in the feed.
Moana’s paua is farmed using a self-sustaining sea-water recirculation system, with paua traceable to the individual tray it was spawned in. Farmed paua is more tender than wild paua as it is harvested when young, and is delicious served as sashimi or lightly seared. Most of Moana’s Blue Abalone is exported to Asia, but it can be bought in New Zealand at Wellington’s Moore Wilson’s, Auckland’s Farro Fresh, the Auckland Fish Market or at gourmetseafood.co.nz. You can also try it at restaurants such as Auckland’s Sidart.
Wild paua, which Moana also sells, is listed as an ‘OK choice’ in the Best Fish Guide. Katrina says that ‘OK choices’ are still fine to eat, but not as often, as there are still changes suppliers need to make.
Katrina, who enjoys recreational fishing herself, explains that Forest & Bird is working towards a sustainable seafood industry, rather than trying to stop people from eating fish. New Zealand is behind other countries when it comes to labelling seafood, she says, which makes sustainable purchasing quite difficult. She suggests people should ask suppliers which seafood species they are buying and where and how it was caught or farmed. “You may not get answers to those questions the first time, but we need people to keep asking them, so that suppliers understand that people want that information.”