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Suburb draws a line in the sand over unsustainable fishing practices

A GROUP of determined chefs is cooking up a plan to turn Bondi Beach into Australia's first sustainable seafood suburb.

''We want to be a sort of Mecca for sustainable fish, so people know exactly what they are getting when they come here,'' said Sandra Marshall, of the non-profit group Blue Starfish, who conceived the idea after watching a documentary about over-fishing. ''It's good for the environment and, hopefully, good for tourism.''

About six tonnes of fish are battered, fried, steamed or poached along the famous waterfront each day, and roughly half of that amount is likely to have been taken from depleted fish stocks.

On Monday night, some of the city's top restaurateurs met with staff from Greenpeace, WWF and the Marine Stewardship Council at Bondi Pavilion, munched sustainably sourced salmon fishcakes, and cast the net wide for ideas.

They agreed to form a group that will approach seafood suppliers and challenge them to explain where their fish come from, with transparent guides published on websites so they can be cross-checked. But ''sustainability'' is a word with about 50 shades of meaning -ranging from ''all fish should be left in the sea'' to ''dolphin friendly'' canned tuna that hooks dozens of other vulnerable species - so that even experts end up scratching their heads.

''There's so much misinformation out there about what's sustainable and what's not,'' said Tom Walton, a chef at The Bucket List on Bondi Beach.

At the moment, most chefs who try to choose sustainable seafood have to do their own research and trust the various fish suppliers and agencies to do the right thing.

Walton's restaurant buys bycatch - fish accidentally caught while fishers are seeking to net another species - to service its need for about 200 kilograms of fish-and-chips each week, and selects other fish to meet strict environmental criteria. Another restaurateur, Joel Best of Bondi's Best Seafood, gets around the problem by asking individual fishers to supply specific fish, using a line instead of nets - even though the cost is higher.

Ms Marshall said she hoped the campaign would continue building until most or all of the restaurants in Bondi pledged not to serve fish caught from depleted fisheries.