FISHY BUSINESS: Ballina Fishermens Co-op Manager Phil Hilliard.
FISHY BUSINESS: Ballina Fishermens Co-op Manager Phil Hilliard. Blainey Woodham

Alliance seeks fish labelling so you know what you're eating

IF YOU love seafood, chances are you often eat fish that isn't quite what you think it is.

That is, unless you buy fresh, and you buy local, says Ballina Fishermen's Co-op manager Phil Hilliard.

But a new campaign, 'Label My Fish', is demanding improved consumer protection laws to require clear labelling of all seafood, including what fish it is, where it is from and how it was caught or farmed.

Clearer labelling in fish shops, takeaways and restaurants will help protect public health, boost the Australian fishing industry and preserve fish for the future, says the Label My Fish Alliance, that includes Greenpeace, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Taronga Zoo and Zoos Victoria and the SEA LIFE Conservation Fund.

"In Australia, we have strict requirements that all fish is labelled," Mr Hilliard said. "But if you are buying a frozen product from overseas, that can be at a chain, a supermarket, or served in a restaurant, you should ask what it is and where it came from."

The answer may surprise you. This is particularly the case with cooked seafood served up in cafes and restaurants.

According to the Alliance, when we buy or eat 'flathead', for example, it may well be an imported South American fish, of a completely different family (Percophis brasiliensis).

Shark, sold as 'flake' and popular in fish and chip shops, could also be anything from Australian caught gummy shark to a threatened species of shark.

A Senate Inquiry into seafood labelling is now underway, due to report on December 4.

Greenpeace CEO David Ritter said: "Most Australians think they're purchasing Australian seafood, when the reality is we now import approximately 70% from overseas."

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Fishy business

  • Australians rate barramundi as their favourite fish in restaurants. About 90% of us believe the barramundi we are consuming is Australian yet over two thirds of the barramundi we eat is imported from Asia.
  • Orange roughie is very sensitive to overfishing and has been overfished in the past. Environment groups advise against eating it, but conscientious consumers can't do the right thing because it goes by a number of names on restaurant menus, including 'deep sea perch' and 'sea perch'.
  • Australian squid and octopus fisheries are generally considered to have healthy stocks that can be harvested in a way that causes relatively little harm to the environment. Despite what many of us think though, around 80% of the squid and octopus we eat is caught overseas. The product comes from fisheries which are often overfished, subject to inferior fishery management schemes and harvested in a damaging way - squid via trawling and octopus via bottom trawling - leading to bycatch concerns.

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