Wild-caught Queensland prawns, bugs and scallops will be off the menu if consumers heed warnings about unsustainable fishing practices from conservationists.
The shellfish varieties have all been downgraded to a red rating in the latest sustainable seafood guide published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).
The AMCS now ranks the trio alongside a suite of other east coast seafood options long-considered unsustainable given the high-value and high-risk marine environment.
While concerns grow about the sustainability of ocean fishing, farmed seafood and fisheries in Queensland were given a relatively strong bill of health. Farmed Queensland prawns are listed as a green “better choice” by the guide.
Tooni Mahto, the AMCS fisheries and threatened species campaign manager, said the AMCS was aware the decision to downgrade optionssuch as wild-caught prawns and scallops was significant.
“It’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly and it went through a rigorous assessment process to get to that point,” Mahto said. “We don’t just take a red pen and score what we feel on that particular day.”
Scallop stocks were down to about 5% of previous levels.
“Scallops are … an iconic Queensland seafood but the stocks have crashed in recent years. There’s a very clear reason why scallops are in the red list and why we recommend people source alternative options.
“The Australian public increasingly expects their seafood to be caught without a high cost to our marine wildlife. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case with some Queensland fisheries at the moment.
“Queensland fisheries catch seafood in and around the Great Barrier Reef marine park, which is home to some of Australia’s most fragile and endangered marine wildlife. Most Australians would be horrified to know that their seafood has been caught in fisheries that drown snubfin and humpback dolphins, dugongs, seahorses or turtles.”
Prawns are now red-listed mainly because of a lack of oversight. The Newman government scrapped an independent observer program, which Mahto said left “a gaping black hole of information” on the sustainability of fishing practices.
She said the Palaszczuk government had made commitments to improve Queensland fisheries, but those commitments had not yet been backed by action. Better regulation and practices would ultimately lift wild-caught seafood back into more sustainable categories.
“What’s needed are really bold and visionary steps forward in terms of improving Queensland fisheries management. They’re the highest risk fisheries in Australia –fisheries operating in and around the Great Barrier Reef.”
Mahto said the “good news story” was progress made by farmed seafood producers. Farmed prawns and barramundi were considered a great sustainable option.
John Molony from Pacific Reef Fisheries operates sustainable prawn and seafood farms in northern Queensland. The farms have invested in technology to improve the water quality from run-off, and reduced their reliance on wild-caught fish to feed fish and prawns.
“We know we farm in a pretty special place, and have responsibilities to the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
Molony also farms cobia, a sought after tropical fish, which also gets a top rating in the guide.