Don?t come the raw prawn with our seafood
By BELINDA SCOTT
ARE we eating the sea dry? Putting our fishers out of business?
Do we even care where our fish comes from or do we just want a cheap feed of seafood?
Well, it seems a lot of us just want a cheap feed of fish but others definitely want to know what they are eating and they don't like being duped by false labelling.
Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-op has just had to close its second fresh fish outlet at Park Beach Plaza after the Co-op found it impossible to compete with the cheap imported fish and prawns being sold through supermarkets.
Meanwhile some fish-savvy Coffs Coast restaurant and club patrons are complaining of being served imported Nile perch when the menu says barramundi; of being served imported farmed vannamei prawns when the menu says local prawns and being served crabmeat when the menu says lobster.
In each case a cheaper seafood had been substituted for a more expensive fish, a practice which is not only dishonest, but harms the local seafood industry, especially at a time when local fishers are battling low catches, low returns and high costs.
The seafood manager of the Coffs Harbour Fishermens Co-op, Shane Geary, who has seen 14 years of catches at the Co-op says NSW has one of the world's best-regulated wild caught fishing industries and Coffs Coast customers enjoy some the freshest fish combined with the greatest variety of species.
He says big fluctuations in catches are not unusual, but he's never seen such low returns to fishers combined with low catches.
Meanwhile, costs for food safety programs, insurance and fuel have gone up.
The price of diesel has risen more than 20c in six months and a 50-55ft prawn trawler will gulp down 600-700 litres of diesel during one night's fishing.
Mr Geary said fishers had told him that one night's fishing off Coffs Harbour cost the same as a month's wages for an Asian prawn farm.
If you can't beat them, join them. Even the Co-op's fish outlet at the Coffs Harbour Marina sells imported farmed vannamei prawns and yesterday the price of the imports was $13.90 a kilogram, compared to $22.90 a kilogram for farmed Gold Coast prawns and $29.90 for wild-caught local prawns.
And a blind taste test of the three different types of prawns, with eight people tasting one prawn from each type, without knowing which was which, gave an interesting result.
While the local prawns won the taste test hands down with high marks, the cheap imported vannamei prawns were rated well above Gold Coast farmed prawns, which came a dismal last.
Duncan Leadbitter, the regional director of the Asia Pacific Marine Stewardship Council, set up to find a solution to the international problem of over-fishing, says farmed fish, like battery chickens, sacrifice flavour for cheap prices.
But he says local fishermen will have to get used to the competition, forget competing on price and find new ways of marketing their fish.