Industry’s mixed response in NSW to Nats plan to label seafood in restaurants

ALL imported fish and fish products in restaurants in NSW will be labelled according to their country of origin under a new labelling scheme to be announced by Deputy Premier Troy Grant at the NSW Nationals annual conference today.

At present, restaurants are under no obligation to reveal that the seafood people are being served comes from overseas.

Seventy-five per cent of fish and fish products in Australia come from overseas and while federal rules ensure raw produce at fish shops is labelled from its country of origin, restaurants, cafes and outlets selling seafood for immediate consumption are exempted.

Mr Grant is promising to work with business, fishing, catering industries and retailers to provide for a new standard here, with a proposal to go before cabinet by the end of the year.

He hopes that the new labelling laws will strengthen the NSW fishing industry.

The new rules would be similar to those presently in place in the Northern Territory, where police enforce the rules but attempt to educate restaurant owners before fining them.

“Seafood caught in NSW is among the highest quality and most sustainably caught in the world — and we want to make sure that all customers have the knowledge to choose our top-quality NSW products over cheaper, imported fish,” Mr Grant said.

“I think most consumers would be shocked to know that 85 per cent of the seafood they eat in NSW is imported — and an origin-labelling scheme would help them to choose a local product and support the local industry.

“Fresh is best and we’ve got a lot to promote with our sensational locally caught prawns, tuna, rock lobster and abalone all deserving star status on our menus.’’

But the industry was mixed in its reaction to the proposal.

“I think it’s an absolutely cracking idea,” says 40-year restaurant veteran Michael McMahon of Troy Grant’s proposal that restaurants will have to tell customers whether seafood comes from Australia or overseas.

McMahon, who has run Catalina in Rose Bay with wife Judy for more than two decades, ensures that chefs Mark Axisa and Alan O’Keeffe know where all their seafood comes from, that it is sustainable and best practice.

“We don’t have fish from supertrawlers. We don’t have fish from people poisoning reefs. I have really strong feeling about it,” he said.

“I hate the rape of the oceans by many Asian countries and Scandinavian countries. I think we should have really strong connections with the people who fish our oceans, rather than caught fish from countries where they have no scruples, people who are raping and pillaging our reefs and our oceans, it’s horrible.

“We don’t buy any fish caught or farmed overseas, except for Mount Cook Alpine Salmon. I’ve seen there farming practices there and they are much better than those from Australia where they pollute very badly, and the only other farmed fish we buy is barramundi (from Humpty Doo, NT).”

“The sooner the whole world does that the better. It’s the last wild caught crop that we have. Everyone thinks the oceans have infinite abundance, but they don’t.”

But supplier John Susman from fisheads Seafood Strategy says it’s a nanny state approach and if you start labelling restaurant meals it may well put people off.

“We’re a 75 per cent net importer (of seafood) in this country. We don’t have the resources and capability to harvest in a cost effective manner all the fish we need. In first world fisheries we have highest level of sustainability and OHS. We have the best commercial fisheries in the world but it’s pretty hard for mum to feed the kids fish Tuesday night for tea if she is looking at ignoring imported bassa,” says Susman who represent local growers Kinkawooka mussels, Glacier 51 toothfish and Fraser Island spanner crab, among others.

“Imports play a very major part, unfortunately, and the reputation of imports is mixed, based on a lot of misinformation, verging on untruths, a debris of xenophobic, misguided patriotism. It’s a very difficult discussion because there are so many mixed emotions.

“It doesn’t apply to any other part of the menu. I take umbrage putting another barrier on front of the menu. The last thing we need is a barrier of entry to the general consumer. And who is going to police it?

“I think the money would be much better spent keeping pirates out of our fisheries.” ENDS.

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