Monday, 12 May 2008


Again, I have to say we are very lucky in Adelaide, specifically, and in southern Australia, in general because we have access to fish and seafood from the Southern Ocean where pollution is minimal. I love all food from the sea, having grown up catching and collecting our own in the days when you were allowed to collect a few abalone, scallops and crabs to go with the squid, tommy roughs, flathead and whiting to make a meal or two. We only took what we could eat in a day or two whereas these days people take as much as they can...that's the whole problem. I used to sit on the rocks with my feet submerged in the waters of the tidal rockpools at Aldinga Beach and scale and gut the fish, while rock crabs crept around picking up the scraps of guts...and sometimes my toes! Snorkelling around the reef often meant coming home with a few abalone, which my mother was not that keen on preparing but my testosteroned brothers were only too happy to sit out the back and smash them around a bit with a hammer! I used to walk along the beach to a friend's shack and we would go out fishing in their boat with her dad and always caught silver whiting on hand-lines, usually two at a time.There was no shortage and life was a plentiful harvest.

There was a local fisherman who used to go out in his long, thin dinghy, always standing up - whatever the weather - and he would catch big snapper and other fish I longed to be able to catch. We would buy from him now and again. Then came the trawlers and we could hear them at night - their diesel engines rumbling like thunder - out taking everything they could get to sell back in town. Fish numbers decreased slowly until eventually the area was so denuded of sea-life that they made the reef where I used to fossick for food into a reserve, to save the breeding grounds, at least. They never stopped the trawlers though, only people like me, minding my own business, not doing any harm. Nothing has changed! Now they say I can't water my vegetables except on Sundays but I can buy as much food from China as I like! Grrrr...Back to the fish...

For probably 20 or more years our gulf waters have been plundered mercilessly until even the fisheries  department conceded that something had to be done to save their industry. Just a couple of years ago the South Australian state government bought back a whole lot of fishing licenses and there was a big hullabaloo from the fishers for a few months but now it has all died down and now we are supposed to have the world's most sustainable fishing industry here, at last. The biggest impact local people feel though is that fish prices have pretty much doubled in 2 years, I'd say. So guess what? Now they have started importing fish from Asia where the rules are dubious and the catch is cheap and the fish shops in the markets are 50% full of plunder from northern seas. And every week there are more stories in the news about the presence of illegal fishing trawlers in Australian waters, especially plentiful are those from Japan.

I will only buy fish caught south of Adelaide and I think they are sick of me asking about this in the fish shop! Pt. Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula, south-west of Adelaide is the centre for a lot of fishing in the Southern Ocean as well as having more and more fish and seafood farms and if they tell me a fish comes from there I know it is the coming from the cleanest waters in the world today. But they catch a lot of species of fish whose numbers are rapidly declining, as well as the plentiful ones, and this they don't tell you. Fish farms in the ocean are OK in very low densities and they do seem to be restricting their numbers but I don't think all the cards are on the table about this yet and I avoid farmed fish from anywhere. There is some information available on this from the Australian Marine Conservation Society. Fish farmed in land-based tanks are a better option and, in some areas of Australia, the waste from these farms is being recycled and used to grow vegetables in a very profitable and environmentally-friendly way. However, it is difficult to keep fish happy and healthy in a limited space and again the problem of additives such as anti-biotics etc has come up. Another problem is the feed they require - huge amounts of other, smaller fish or some sort of manufactured substitute - all very YUK, if you have read the post I wrote called 'Something to Beef About'.

The three basic problems are:

1. There are too many fish being taken from the sea because wild fish are free of charge and this is causing some fish varieties to become endangered.

2. Some fish can be sold for huge sums of money to restaurants overseas - mostly in Japan, for Australian tuna, prawns and crayfish. And this means methods such as fish farming are being intensified without enough regulation.

3. The seas are becoming polluted with nasty things like mercury and other heavy metals because of humans and the bigger the fish the more these are accumulating in the flesh.

P1000104You can become vegetarian but I am not going to do that, and anyway I think that just shifts the problem elsewhere. (I feel some comments coming on! Fire away!). I seek out fish based on the 3 points mentioned above. P1000334This can usually be fairly easily done here by buying the cheapest local fish on the day. Whatever that is drives what I cook with it, instead of going shopping with a dish in mind and having to buy something appropriate. I love squid and mussels too. The mussels are farmed in the sea in Port Lincoln and I don't think are as much of a problem as farmed fish and are incredibly cheap and the best you can get. I would say that mussels are almost my favourite food, even. Local squid are plentiful and cheap too. When we go sailing (see photos) we catch a few fish including snook and silver whiting as well as some blue swimmer crabs and the odd squid. All very plentiful in the incredibly pristine waters around Kangaroo Island where these photos were taken. Here is a list I found on the website mentioned above and is relevant to South Australia. Seek out something similar for your area and don't unknowingly be part of the problem.

Say no to:

Blue warehou marketed as black trevally Orange roughy marketed as deep sea perch Silver trevally marketed as white trevally
Snotty trevally, Tasmanian trevally Oreo marketed as deep sea dory Barramundi - seacage aquaculture
Broadbill swordfish marketed as swordfish Redfish marketed as red snapper Mulloway - seacage aquaculture - marketed as jewfish
Commercial scallop marketed as Tasmanian scallop Sharks and rays marketed as flake Ocean trout - seacage aquaculture
Eastern gemfish marketed as hake, king couta Southern bluefin tuna marketed as tuna Snapper (pink) -seacage aquaculture
Atlantic salmon- seacage aquaculture marketed as Tasmanian salmon   Yellowtail kingfish - seacage aquaculture

Choose these instead:

Australian salmon - native species Flathead Trevally - tropical species only
Blue swimmer crab King George whiting (black whiting) Western rock lobster - Marine Stewardship Council certified only
Bream South Australian whiting (spotted whiting) Yellowtail kingfish - wild caught
Calamari (squid) Leatherjacket (ocean jacket, butterfish) Blue mussel
cuttlefish Mullet (bluetail, yelloweye) Oysters (avoid Pacific oysters, which are introduced and have become a pest)
octopus Mulloway (jewfish) - wild caught  


Anonymous said...

Well, since you invited it :), where does becoming vegetarian shift the problem to?

Anonymous said...

Indeed, where are you shifting the problem too? Your post makes it sound like you are doing the world or yourself a favor by eating fish.

Anytime you eat fish (or meat for that matter), you are dealing with odds. What if you misunderstand the true level of contamination of the waters where the fish came from? Indeed what if you misunderstand any of the other issues you mentioned, or what if the person selling you the fish lied about it's origins?

People who don't eat fish are perfectly healthy, and you are unlikely to be improving your heath by eating it. If you don't eat it you are sure you are not damaging the environment or your health in the way you describe, and in fact you are doing your part by reducing overall demand for seafood products which can only be a good thing.

Okay, you like seafood. We all make choices in our life. I make lots of choices in my life that others could find reason to criticize me for, and I don't mean to criticize you for yours. We both get on airplanes for example.

I don't however think there is any way of getting around the fact that if you really truly want to do the best thing for the environment and your health, not eating seafood is the best way to do this. Making this decision isn't shifting the problem anywhere.

Americans make a similar argument that you do when it comes to driving an SUV. If they don't burn the fossil fuels someone else will, right? Why should they be a martyr and drive a fuel efficient car if they can afford an SUV? How can you blame them for global warming when it was going to happen anyway?

The most environmentally friendly or health concious consumer is almost always the one who doesn't buy anything in the first place.

Kate said...

But Patrick you have to get protein from somewhere - you can't live healthily without it. Do you grow ALL your own protein? Beans, chickpeas,soy beans, lentils etc etc? Probabby not. If not then somewhere there has been land cleared to provide you with protein. And there have therefore been all sorts of processes going on to get it to where you purchase it.

I grow nearly every single vegetable we eat all year round in my own back yard (well front, back and side, actually).I buy flour grown at least organically, just north of my home by local families and pasta etc the same. I buy protein sourced as naturally and sustainably as I can find and here it is very easy to find feral meat and local etc fish. It is impossible to buy local, organic beans, lentils etc here but I do my best to sort through all those issues too.

Can you honestly say that you do better than that by being vegetarian? I am pretty sure there aren't many people who have such a small food 'footprint' as me. I think you and others would be amazed at how we can live here in Adelaide and I hope one day you will come and let me show you.

As always, however, I am open to all thoughts and criticisms and indeed welcome them and never take offense in any way.

Kate said...

ps what did you think of the TED talk that someone put a link to on your blog Patrick?
That is exactly what I have thought for a long time.
Do you think that would be a fair way to get protein? Would you ever consider not being vegetarian?
I know it is not great writing in these comment boxes!

Anonymous said...

Kate, the disease you get when you are lacking protein is called 'Kwashiorkor':

When is the last time you ever heard of someone getting it? Probably not recently. In the US about 3 or 4 people get it every year, and these are normally people with some sort of very severe eating disorder who probably have a diet that's mostly candy.

The problem in the developed world is usually people eating too much protein rather than not enough.

There are really a lot of people who spend a lot of time worrying about the nutritional needs of vegetarians, and there are a lot of rumours and myths.

The truth of the matter is that if you eat a reasonably varied vegetarian diet, it's nearly impossible to develop any nutritional deficiencies. Vegetarians are also statistically healthier than their non-vegetarian counterparts. As a vegetarian for more than 20 years now, I can assure you I don't have any nutritional problems, low energy problems, I'm not hungry or suffering in any way.

I don't in any way watch what I eat, and make sure that I for example get enough protein, enough of the right protein or am sure to combine proteins in the right way. In fact I do eat protein from sources like beans, peas and other legumes, but if I didn't like these things it would be no problem because ordinary vegetables and grains are full of proteins.

Being a vegetarian is a complete non-issue.

All meats, seafood, even dairy products are all simply 'extra' foods that don't constructively contribute to a healthy diet. Their only purpose is many people think they taste good, and make them feel full.

In terms of health, if you want, you can simply stop eating these 'extra' foods and continue on with everything else you eat unchanged. Of course most people don't do this, and make at least some other changes to their diet after becoming vegetarian, usually eating more so they feel full.

Anonymous said...

We must have been posting at the same moment there. I listened to the TED talk some weeks ago when it first came out. I didn't think it was one of Pollan's best presentations.

I'm not sure what you mean by fair way to get protein.

I don't have any plans to stop being vegetarian. Do you have any plans to start smoking? I suppose either of these could happen, but probably not something either one of us is planning on. I don't have any reason to stop being vegetarian.

Anonymous said...

I was just reading your comment a little more carefully.

I don't really have any idea if my food 'footprint' is smaller than yours, I don't really think about it in that way. At a quick guess, I would say they probably aren't that far apart. I know my food costs have not been going up much in recent months, in part because what I eat is not all that energy intensive. Like I said, except for being vegetarian, I don't pay a lot of attention to what I eat.

While I hope to improve on this, I don't come close to growing most of my food right now, so you are way ahead of me there. This summer I expect to have a lot more from my garden.

Kate said...

The vegetarian daughter of a friend of ours has a severe lack of vitamin B12 - and it is really serious. She is 19 and becoming hopelessly tied to medication and so on. I think, as with everything, there are many ways that are right and we have to find the one we feel is best for us.

I don't concentrate on everything I eat either and nor ahould we have to need to but so many people should take a big look at what they eat - you know what I mean, for all sorts of reasons. Anyway, one day it wil be nice (and easier) to talk about such things and I look forward to it.

Anonymous said...


While I'm sorry about your friend's daughter, most vegetarians don't develop this problem. While there's widespread acceptance that animal based foods are higher in B12 than vegetarian ones, there is little other agreement, and it's clear there's a lot more to vitamin B12 deficiency than simply saying it's the result of a vegetarian diet.

The UK Vegetarian Society has an explanation of some of what's known about the causes. In my opinion, even this report draws too much attention to the importance of B12. In truth not a lot is known about vitamin B12, it's importance in diet, how it is absorbed, stored or processed by the body, and there has been very little non-biased research on the subject.

There are many societies, past present and future, who have had all or mostly vegetarian based diets and there is little or no evidence that vitamin B12 deficiency has ever been an issue.

I have not personally ever known anyone who has a B12 deficiency. I also don't have or expect to get such a condition, and don't take any steps to avoid it. Unless there were unusual circumstances, I would also not recommend anyone, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, take vitamin B12 or any other food supplements.

I do have a friend who is very much a meat eater that has very painful problems with gout, a problem associated with eating too much protein. I wouldn't necessarily recommend anyone become vegetarian to avoid this problem either.

The food industries makes huge amounts of money, dividing our foods up into their component parts, making us afraid of not eating right, then selling us these component parts back in the form of light or enriched foods or food supplements. Making sure we eat enough of the right foods, but not necessarily avoid the wrong ones. Nearly all of the funding for this kind of research comes from the food industry, and is designed to encourage us to buy and eat more foods. This is something Michael Pollan addresses in his books.

This is something similar to what the large agricultural companies do with fertilizers, pesticides and commercial plant varieties.

I spent a good part of my life impressed by this kind of science, marketing and commercial products, but not any more!

I am not afraid of the foods I eat, or that I'm not eating enough of the right ones. I don't take vitamins, because I'm afraid of some deficiency. I also don't add chemical fertilizers to my garden, because I'm afraid I'm missing something, or spray my plants with chemicals because I'm afraid insects might eat them. I don't grow commercial varieties, because I'm afraid of wasting my gardening year with some 'unknown' heirloom variety.

Instead what I do is avoid buying and using energy intensive products, or products that otherwise damage the environment. I focus on buying and consuming the least amount, and locally where possible. When real problems do come up with my health or my garden, I address those specific problems, in the most natural way possible. I don't usually buy commercial or chemical products to avoid problems that don't exist yet.

Unknown said...

Just adding my two bob's worth to this very interesting thread. I think both of you have valid points, and the world would be a boring place, and probably a fascist dictatorship, if we couldn't express our views. I am an omnivore, but am leaning well away from red meat and some dairy products, which by its farming practices causes the most harm to our environment. I don't think I will ever be a fully blown vegetarian or vegan, but I certainly don't frown on either people who choose to eat this way or the people like Kate and I that choose to be omnivores.

Kate, sorry to hear of your friends daughters problem. I have read that the only plant that has vitamin B12 is comfrey!

chaiselongue said...

Thanks for this post, Kate. It got me thinking about the fish we eat here. Like you, I don't want to be vegetarian, but I want to eat sustainable, well-reared fish and meat and enjoy my food! I'm trying to find out more about Mediterranean fish now - the fishing industry is so much a part of Mediterranean culture, but that doesn't make it blameless. Fortunately sardines, oysters and mussels are OK, it seems.