- ‘Flake’ is sold in fish and chip shops throughout Australia, but what many Australians may not realise is that ‘flake’ is actually shark.
- ‘Flake’ is mostly gummy shark although it can also refer to mako, school, blacktip, dusky or sandbar shark, elephant fish, any type of dogfish, many other species of shark or even rays. The Australian Fish Names Committee recently decided that only two shark species should be sold or marketed in Australia as ‘flake’ - gummy shark and rig shark (rig shark is close related to gummy shark and is mostly found in New Zealand waters), however this is a voluntary standard.
What’s the Catch?
- Shark populations are in decline worldwide. Sharks are vulnerable to overfishing as they are slow developing large fish that do not quickly reproduce.
- The IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature) - widely recognised as the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species - lists 74 species of sharks classified as either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. This means they are considered to be facing a high to extremely high risk of extinction.
- The gummy shark population in Australia is healthy, but when fishing for gummy it is difficult to avoid catching school shark as well, so there is an incidental catch allowance in place. The biological stock of school shark is classified as overfished, and for this reason this species cannot be targeted. School shark has consistently remained below 20% of its pristine population level (the threshold reference point). The estimated timeframe to rebuild school shark biomass back to the 20% threshold has recently been extended from 32 years to 66 years.
- School shark is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List and 'conservation dependent' by the Australian Government EPBC list of Threatened Fauna. ‘Conservation Dependent’ means the species is the focus of a specific conservation program, the cessation of which would result in the species becoming vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
- The recent decision for only gummy shark to be referred to as flake is not enforceable, so there are still no consistent labelling requirements for cooked fish in Australia. When you buy ‘flake’ you could be buying any type of shark, including a threatened species like school shark.
- Sharks play an important role in the ecosystem as the top predator. If sharks continue to be overfished, the ecosystem will be thrown out of balance.
- If sharks are overfished and their numbers decline as a result, the numbers of their prey will increase. The overpopulated prey will then overeat the next level down and so on, having a damaging, domino effect down the food chain. This effect is what scientists call a ‘trophic cascade.’
- This effect can already be observed in the increase in population and distribution of squid worldwide.
- Sharks are caught Australia wide by gillnet, longline and trawlers. The bycatch, the aquatic life that is killed, harmed or damaged as a result of being caught in the gillnets and trawlers along with the sharks, can include dolphins and Australian sea lions.
- The Australian Marine Conservation Society says to say no to shark.
What’s the Solution?
- Some species of shark can be fished sustainably, such as the creek whaler, as they are small sharks that are quick to reproduce and are not currently overfished.
- However, whilst so many sharks are marketed as ‘flake,’ there is no way for consumers to differentiate between eating sustainable and threatened species.
- Although a standard has recently been introduced to limit ‘flake’ to gummy shark, until this is enforced and better labelling laws are in place in Australia, consider a sustainable alternative to ‘flake’ such as Spanish mackerel.
What’s the Recipe?
- The Australian Marine Conservation Society on shark
- Good Fish Bad Fish on shark
- The Australian Fish Names Committee’s new standard for flake
- The Australian Government’s Fisheries Status Report 2013-2014
- The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act List of Threatened Fauna
- The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation on school shark
- The International Union for Conservation of Nature on creek whaler
- The Australian Marine Conservation Society on Spanish mackerel
What's the Catch premieres 8.30pm Thursday 30 October on SBS ONE.
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