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Sustainable seafood on more Australian tables as traceability practices improve

Whether it is in a can, a fish shop window or on a restaurant plate, 30 per cent of the world's seafood is still mislabelled, according to research compiled by the international Marine Stewardship Council.

Seafood fraud, "the selling of seafood products with a misleading label, description or promise", can have wide-ranging consequences on fisheries management and the protection of marine ecosystems around the world.

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How can you tell sustainable seafood?

The blue MSC label from the Marine Stewardship Council signifies seafood is handled with care and can be traced back to a sustainable source,

Atlantic bluefin tuna and wild-caught chinook salmon have recorded some of the highest rates of mislabelling, while the humble fish finger and seafood stick have recorded the lowest.

Since 1996 the non-profit MSC has set standards for sustainable fishing and labelling, certifying more than 280 fisheries in more than 35 countries, representing almost 10 per cent of annual global yields.

To achieve the MSC traceability standard every business, along every step of the supply chain that handles seafood is audited by an independent certification body.

In Australia, Coles and IKEA have full MSC-certification and traceability in place for their fresh and packaged seafood, while Woolworths, IGA and ALDI all sell MSC-certified frozen and canned seafood.


Ninety-four per cent of John West Australia canned tuna is MSC-certified, as well as a select range of Birds Eye frozen fish, and yet more than half of Australian consumers still doubt that the seafood they buy is what is advertised on the packet, according to an MSC survey of more than 16,000 consumers.

"Food fraud undermines the efforts of reputable fishers and traders and has led to wide recognition of the need for credible traceability in the supply chain," said MSC CEO Rupert Howes.

"Seafood sold with the blue MSC label can be traced back to a sustainable source, and our robust chain of custody requirements provide reassurance that it's correctly labelled."

In its report released on Tuesday, Ocean to plate: How DNA testing helps to ensure traceable sustainable seafood, the MSC highlighted the need to track seafood through all stages of production, processing and distribution. It revealed the council's most recent round of DNA testing which found 99.6 per cent of MSC certified fish was correctly labelled.

The report highlighted implications of seafood mislabelling that included illegal and unregulated fishing, consumer health implications, consumer deception and unmonitored trade of endangered and vulnerable species.

"A global analysis of ... fishing from 54 countries, comprising 75 per cent of global catch, revealed that an estimated 11 to 26 million tonnes of illegal, unreported and unregulated fish are landed each year, representing a loss of between US$10 billion and $23.5 billion to the fishing industry," the report said.

Sampling and labelling by country in this year's MSC DNA testing.

Sampling and labelling by country in this year's MSC DNA testing.

Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific Nathaniel Pelle said, despite recent improvements, Australian consumers had historically been "let down by supermarkets" in terms of sustainability.

"It's only in the [past] 12 months or so that supermarkets have started to follow the example set by European supermarkets. Coles in particular has been really active in...sourcing more responsibly-fished seafood, but they also started from a point well behind what consumers in Europe and the UK can expect."

In August last year Coles was caught breaching its new sustainable tuna policy, stocking shelves with home brand cans of yellowfin tuna, a type of fish it acknowledges is overfished.

Mr Pelle said Australian supermarkets have been known for taking a "cynical approach" when supplying consumers with responsibly-sourced products.

"They've sold the Australian consumer short by claiming consumers only care about price, when we know consumers, given the options ... want to make [sustainable] seafood choices."

Coles first launched its Responsibly Sourced Seafood Program in October last year, on which it collaborated with organisations like WWF Australia, the MSC and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

"Coles' responsible sourcing standards ensure Coles Brand fresh, frozen and canned seafood is traced from the time it leaves the fishery to when it is purchased, giving customers confidence and choice to help make a difference for the environment and contribute towards a more sustainable future," a spokesperson said.