Australians eat more seafood than we can produce
SBS Learn
24 Sep 2014 - 3:51 PM  UPDATED 16 Oct 2015 - 2:18 PM

Q1. Australia’s consumption of imported prawns

Over the past 40 years, our consumption of seafood has increased significantly and our population is growing, which means as a country we’re going to eat even more. Australia is one of the world leaders in contemporary seafood fishing practices but not all of the prawns that we eat are from Australia. Australian waters are not as productive for fishing as you might think. Wild sustainable prawns generally take longer to produce than their unsustainable counterparts. Therefore, frozen imported prawns are very popular in Australia. Think about all of the ways prawns are eaten in your closest city… There are prawns on the menu at sushi, pizza and fish and chip outlets on every street corner.


Q2. Where do imported prawns come from?

Farmed prawns can be imported into Australia very cheaply from overseas including East Asia, namely China, Vietnam and especially Thailand. Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic plants and animals, and this includes prawns. While Australian prawn aquaculture practices are managed sustainably, many overseas’ practices do not have as high environmental standards. Unsustainable prawn farming can degrade marine and freshwater environments. There is potential for ecosystems being degraded by coastal land clearing and habitat destruction for prawn farming.

Thai prawns are contained in ponds that have little tree cover or shade. Being nocturnal creatures, prawns generally only come out at night and retreat out of the sun during the day. As there are few places to go to escape the sun the prawn farmers frequently toss blue sunscreen into the ponds, which can be consumed by the prawns you later eat. These farms may also use antibiotics to prevent disease in the prawns.


Q3. Trashfish: feeding the problem

Prawns in East Asia may be fed a high-protein prawn feed five times a day. This is to encourage speedy growth so they get to our table quickly. Prawn feed is produced in a factory using trash fish (reduced to a fishmeal) as one of its ingredients. Trashfish is wild fish that have been trawled from the sea floor and it includes juvenile fish. Fishing trawlers use nets to scrape the ocean floor for trashfish. The nets gather up everything in their path including crustaceans, sea stars, sea urchins and even baby turtles. Trawlers’ nets are responsible for environmental destruction on coral reefs in South-East Asia.


Q4. Prawn to be wild

  • Check where your prawns come from… and then decide

Seafood in Australia comes from both wild fisheries and aquaculture. Prawn farms are typically established in tropical and sub-tropical mangrove regions. In Asia, many mangrove forests are cleared to make ponds for farmed prawns to grow until they are ready for human consumption. The prawns are harvested, sorted, packed and distributed to Australian seafood markets, restaurants, fishmongers and supermarkets for us to buy and enjoy.

There is limited potential for growth in wild fisheries production. There has been growth in aquaculture in Australia and overseas, which has the potential to continue to expand to meet current and future demand for prawns. Prawn farms in Australia have environmental controls monitored by government agencies that aim to ensure that seafood grown here is safe to eat and that the production does not impact aquatic environments. Australian prawns are often more expensive to buy because they are more expensive to farm.

Knowledge is power – Australian-caught prawns are likely to be more sustainable than their imported counterparts. Check the labelling at your supermarket or fish supplier before you buy.

Q5. What can I do?

  • Before going shopping download the Sustainable Seafood Guide
  • Ask your family and friends if they know what trashfish is and how it’s used to feed Australia’s huge appetite of imported prawns.
  • Next time you buy a pizza, ask the shop where they get their prawns from.

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