Category Archives: Odd Spot

Mangrove Jack caught in Eden

11th July 2014

This is the second unusual catch for the Eden trawl vessel Imlay, in February they extended the known range of the Queen Snapper by catching one in Eden.

This time they have caught what they believe to be a Mangrove Jack (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) while fishing from Eden on NSW’s south coast.

According to the Australian Museum the Mangrove Jack occurs in tropical and some warm temperate marine waters of the Indo-West and Central Pacific. In Australia it is known from the central coast of Western Australia, around the tropical north of the country and south to the central coast of New South Wales.

Jacks are a popular recreational specie and according to TackleWorld are “capable of lightning-fast strikes and strong and violent runs for cover, providing sport fishermen with the ultimate fishing challenge”.

A global perspective on a local industry: Globalised Seafood Markets and Our Current Position in Them

22nd May 2014

By Wayne Dredge, Nuffield scholarship recipient.

While in New York recently I visited the second largest seafood market in the world, New Fulton Fish Market. It was Easter week so I was dismayed, although not surprised, to discover not one item from Australia. I counted thirty nine represented countries with an extraordinary range of products that ranged from bulk wholesale commodity products right through to niche markets. Despite our New Zealand cousins having eleven wild capture products in the market Australia had none.

For the previous six weeks I had taken part in a Global Focus Program run by Nuffield Australia. It had taken me from shanty towns in South Africa, to a school run by a former Kenyan Army Major General and national hero, to one of the last great cattle ranches of East Africa, to dining with a Russian Oligarch who was agriculture minister during the Chechen war of 1999, through the old Eastern Bloc of Europe, into the last major European manufacturing powerhouse of Germany, into the corridors of power in Washington DC and finally to the very centre of US agriculture in Nebraska. Having finished the focus program I spent a week studying the seafood markets of the city that never sleeps. So what does this have to do with commercial fishing in Australia? The answer is everything.

Lessons learned from other production sectors are invaluable and it is this that Nuffield provides better than anyone. Globally the most successful primary production industries, and the ones with the greatest longevity, are not simply those with high production, high growth, low costs or high revenue and profits. The best production industries across the world are those who own their product from producer to consumer. In the business world it’s referred to as vertical integration and by achieving this they own their products story which is a powerful marketing tool and creates a direct connection with customers.

Twenty years ago most Australians knew a farmer or fisherman. With the rapid urbanisation that has occurred globally since the eighties and early nineties the fact is this isn’t the case any more. The result is a chasm has developed between urban consumers and producers. Every vendor I spoke to at New Fulton lamented that within five years it was likely the market would be reduced to minimal capacity or cease altogether. Asked why the response was unanimous, “small stores, restaurants and customers are dealing directly with producers.” Visiting retail stores and restaurants in Manhattan this was obvious, one restaurant even had photos on the wall of three Boston based fishing vessels that supplied it directly. Weekend street markets had fisherman selling their own products on Manhattan’s streets. The other glaring fact was that by reducing the value chain links between consumer and producer the end customer felt closer to knowing where their food came from which went a long way to filling that chasm.

Talking with the store manager of Citarella’s, a long time NYC seafood retailer and main wholesale provider to many of Manhattan’s thirty thousand restaurant’s, it was even more obvious. Citarella’s have done everything possible to reduce the links between production and customer, the economic benefits to all have been significant. When asked whether they experienced any sustainability concerns from customers about their wild capture products the answer was a resounding “no”. Creating an environment where customers felt closer to fisherman a greater element of trust naturally occurred. This resulted in a better public image for capture fisheries in their local region.

So where has Australia gone wrong? We are constantly improving practices, have some of the most conservative, well managed fisheries in the world and produce a product that is world class. Since beginning this scholarship I have looked at every seafood retailer or wholesaler possible in every country I have visited and not once have I seen product that is fresher or better than what we produce locally.

Considering Australia imports about seventy to eighty percent of it’s domestic seafood consumption wild capture fisheries no longer hold the market place they once did. Through high and ever increasing production costs our capture fisheries have become directed toward high socio-economic domestic markets and export markets for products like Rock Lobster and Abalone which are predominantly limited to China. The result is an industry that transitioned from providing seafood for average families to producing premium product for a wealthier domestic market and a high volume export market.

Higher demographic, wealthier consumers in our major cities are more disconnected from food production than ever before and are unaware of how hard industry continually works to improve practices. They are the most politically active, influential and the most likely to research what they are buying. This disconnect compounds when the product information they receive through a basic Google search generally doesn’t come from producers but rather environmental NGO’s and activist groups who often distort science and facts to pursue their own ideological and fundamental beliefs.

This is largely a problem of our own making. As seafood prices skyrocketed over the previous decade the mentality of treating our product as a commodity hasn’t altered. We generally send fish to market or processors and allow them to dictate price. The irony is that our product is superior to cheaper imports and that domestically and internationally consumers are prepared to pay a premium for it. New Zealand is aware of this and are capitalising on it internationally with both fresh and value added products. In every country I have visited Kiwi seafood has been present, Australian has not. The largest source of fresh fish in Australia is from New Zealand, their import volumes are in fact larger than any single Australian fishery.

The variability of fish market prices in Australia are indicative that our domestic market can absorb only so much premium product before supply and demand economics kick in and prices plummet. What is needed is a entire change in the paradigm of thinking amongst producers. The world over urban consumers are gravitating toward fresh, healthy, pre-packaged food options. It’s a rapidly growing market both domestically and internationally and when industry initiated allows consumers to connect with producers who are directly providing these fresh and/or value added products.

As yet no wild catch sectors with access to a variety of species, volume and near constant supply have attempted to go down this path directly from production level on any notable scale. Australia (and South Eastern Australia) does have this potential but it would require a huge shift from our current thinking. A regional brand would take time and money to develop; marketing, communications and skills would need to be brought in. Working with Australia’s large corporate retailers would be required. The eventual benefits to a rural region however could be exponential.

A point that is hugely missed in marketing wild capture seafood is that we provide the only naturally occurring organic protein source available on a commercial scale. This single point alone when marketed and presented in the correct manner would increase demand and change the industry from being price takers to price makers.

Imagine a tired thirty one year old doctor walking into a Macro Supermarket in Prahan to purchase dinner after a long shift. Near the seafood display an iPad displays video footage of a fishing boat working in rough conditions. She picks up a portion size package of ling fillets seasoned with fresh herbs and garlic butter, a photo of Victoria’s pristine waters and beautiful coastline sits in the top corner with the words “natural, organic and responsibly sourced”. On the bottom a simple traceability system tells her the name of the boat it came off and gives a website address. Concerned about seafood harvesting processes she whips out a smartphone and punches in the web address. An image comes up giving details of Australia’s southern fisheries, an independent Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) assessment showing that pink ling is not overfished and a map clearly showing the extent of Marine Protected Areas and links to all the projects currently underway to exclude interactions with seals, sea birds etc. Down the left hand side she see’s the name of the vessel that is on the package of ling in her other hand and clicks on it. A photo of the Lady Miriam comes up with Trevor and Joy standing in front of it, below it reads, “Trevor (Bluey) is the skipper and part owner of the Lady Miriam which is a family run business. He’s married to Joy and they have three children. Trevor spends around ten months a year at sea and has been an industry leader in trialing different sea bird mitigation technologies.” Smiling to herself she puts her phone away, glances at the iPad and purchases the ling. The whole process having taken less than a minute and in that minute a link to production has been made.

We have strong fisheries and smart fisherman but we live in a globalised world with globalised seafood markets and Darwin’s evolution has shown it isn’t the strongest or most intelligent that survive but the most adaptable to change. Our customers have changed, the technology they receive their consumer product information from has changed, to survive and gain strength into the future we must too.

Imagine that consumer a week later. She’s on a quick break and flicking through her facebook account. GetUp has launched another campaign to introduce more MPA’s or ban another form of fishing. Just as she is about to click “like” and sign the petition the image of Bluey and Joy standing in front of the Lady Miriam pops into her mind. She remembers the the information that stocks are not being overfished, see’s the map of protected areas, pictures the video of the boat working in rough seas, considers that a person is spending ten months a year at sea to support his family, that it’s a family run business and thinks, “jeez, haven’t they got it tough enough already.” If we can achieve that we don’t simply own the story behind our product, we own the story behind our industry.

In the Belly of the Beast

6th March 2014

By Max Abensperg-Traun, former CSIRO research scientist and now Head of the CITES Management Authority, Austria.

“A delightful read that tackles with wit and razor-sharp intellect some of the most confounding obstacles that prevent sustainable wildlife management in an increasingly sanitized world. Based on several decades of on-the-ground experience, it very effectively challenges many common illusions about what many think may be best for some of our most cherished wildlife. The book is an absolute must for all who care to take a critical look at many of the current conservation practices.”

In the Belly of the Beast is published by Charles Darwin University Press. Advance copies are available from the author, Dr Graham Webb on gwebb@wmi.com.au and in time at all good book stores.

Rare Greenland Shark captured

24th October 2013

In summer this year the stern trawlerCastella Rosa hauled their net after fishing in 420 metres of water in an area known as the “Main Drag” off Portland.  Skipper “Golfball” was amazed to find that he had captured a Greenland Shark.  The prehistoric Greenland Shark is a member of theSomniosidae family of sharks also known as sleeper sharks.  Generally only described as occurring in the North Atlantic around Greenland in the sub-Arctic this guy was a little lost.  Greenland sharks are the only shark comparable in size to the Great White Shark; this specimen was 4.8 metres long and was estimated to weigh 1.5 tonnes, its girth was approaching 3m.  Greenland Sharks have been reported to reach 5.8 metres.  The species prey on fish, squid and Eskimos report having found seals, reindeer (in one case an entire carcass), polar bears and horses in their stomachs.  They must be stealthy because their top speed has been calculated at only 1.6 miles per hour.  One study has suggested that they prey on seals while they are asleep.  Video footage of what is believed to be a Greenland Shark was recorded at 2,773 metres deep.  A short documentary film featuring footage of a live specimen can be seen here.

Eating fish improves sperm count!

18th October 2013

156 men suffering fertility problems had their diet as well as the shape and size of their sperm examined in a Harvard University study.

Researchers found that men who regularly ate processed meat had significantly lower amounts of normal sperm, compared with those who limited the amount of foods like bacon, sausages, hamburgers, ham and mince.

On average, those who ate the equivalent of less than a rasher of bacon a day had 30 per cent more normal sperm than those who ate higher quantities of processed meats.  Meanwhile, those who ate a portion of white fish every other day had a similar edge over those who ate fish more rarely.

Dr Myriam Afeiche, from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said it was extremely difficult to accurately measure the size and shape of sperm. However, he said advice to eat less processed meat and more fish was good health advice, regardless.

Book release – The Perfect Protein

23rd August 2013

“But what if there was a healthy, animal sourced protein that both the fat and the thin could enjoy without draining the life from the soil, without drying up our rivers, without polluting the air and water, without causing our planet to warm even more, without plaguing communities with diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”
It is the one animal protein that’s rarely mentioned in the endless reports about big agriculture and hunger crises. It’s the protein that’s the healthiest for your body; low in cholesterol, brimming with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like riboflavine, iron and calcium. It’s one of the most ancient foods, and it’s most likely the last wild creature you’ll eat, the last pure exchange between Earth and your dinner plate.”

Extracted from the recently released The Perfect Protein by Andy Sharpless.

Rare goblin shark donated to science

5th March 2013

When Trevor Hunt (“Bluey”) the Skipper of the board trawler Lady Miriam hauled the trawl while fishing east of Esso’s Flounder platform in 530m’s of water he couldn’t believe his eyes. Even though he has been at sea for 28 years he had never seen or heard of a shark that looked like this. The shark measured eleven and a half feet long and although not weighed was estimated to weigh 230kg’s. The shark was caught on a hard muddy bottom next to a canyon while fishing for ling. The species scientific name is Mitsukurina owstoni . This family of sharks appeared in the fossil record 140 million years ago but M.owstoni is the only remaining species, all others went extinct millions of years ago. This shark is the 13th ever caught in Australia. Even though collectors might pay thousands of dollars for the shark’s distinctive set of jaws (see inset top left corner), Bluey elected to donate the shark’s head to the Melbourne Museum. Dianne Bray from Museum Victoria said the head will become part of the Museum’s research collection housed at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton Gardens. The Ichthyology research collection contains more than 500,000 fish specimens, some of which are the actual type specimens on which new species descriptions have been based. Research collections, like those at Museum Victoria, are like biological libraries, and document our biodiversity, and provide us with information on the distribution, ecology, characteristics and genetics of each species. The capture of this Goblin Shark will increase knowledge of this relatively rare, deep-water species. In 2003, more than a hundred Goblin Sharks were caught off the northwest coast of Taiwan, an area in which they have previously not been found. Reportedly, the sharks were caught a short time after an earthquake occurred in the area. One of these sharks was transferred to an aquarium and the first ever video footage of a small live specimen was recorded. M. owstoni’s conservation status is classified by the IUCN’s Shark Red List Authority as a species of “Least Concern”.

Shark drops from sky

5th March 2013

A live 1kg leopard shark dropped from the sky in Southern California recently.
A course marshal saw something moving around on the tee and went to investigate and found the small shark. The marshal put the shark in his golf cart and drove it back to the clubhouse. The marshal wanted to help the shark, so stuck it in a bucket of water. Then somebody remembered it wasn’t a fresh water animal, so they stirred up some “homemade sea water” using sea salt from the kitchen, she said. “We knew we had to get it to the ocean as fast as possible”. “When Brian put it in the water, it didn’t move,” she said, “but then it flipped and took off.”
The shark has small puncture wounds indicating a bird of prey may have seized it before dropping it on the golf course.
It’s the first time anyone could remember a shark falling from the sky at the golf course. “We have your typical coyotes, skunks and the occasional mountain lion, but nothing like a shark,” she said.

Domestic cats eat double the South East Trawl Fishery annual catch

5th March 2013

The journal of agricultural and environmental ethics has published a paper by Sena De Silva and Giovanni Turchini titled Towards Understanding the Impacts of the Pet Food Industry on World Fish and Seafood Supplies. The article explains that Australian cats eat 33,500 tonnes of seafood per annum. This seafood is imported and Australian made.
To put this in context the southern east trawl fishery lands 18,000 tonnes per year meaning that two south east trawl fisheries would be required to feed all Australian cats.
The report explains that “Pet ownership is increasing globally. It has been reported that the increase of disposable income, together with increasing urbanization and associated attitude shifts, are responsible for the dramatic increase in pet ownership, such as for example in China and in developing countries in general”. It adds that, “The market for pet food and pet care products has been reported to be growing at an annual average rate of 4% in value terms and reached US$49 billion in 2003, with pet food representing about 80% of the global pet industry market”. It concludes that, “It has been hypothesized that pet owners are treating their companions progressively more as a family member, and consequently, expenditure on pet food is growing.”
Fortunately Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries are managed under sustainable quotas that are recommended by fisheries scientists and set by an independent Commission. Demand for seafood products is not considered when setting quotas.

Lady Cheryl sinks

5th March 2013

South East Trawl vessel Lady Cheryl hit Corsair Rock at Port Phillip Heads near Point Nepean at approximately 1:00am on Saturday 24 March 2012. The vessel is 27m long and weighs around 157 tonnes. The six crew were rescued by Port Phillip Sea Pilots. The exact nature and cause of the incident is under investigation.
After authorities were alerted to the incident a multi-agency Incident Management Team was established to manage and contain pollution and plan salvage operations. The Victorian Department of Transport reports that, “Vigilant monitoring of the environment is continuing throughout the operation revealing no impact to wildlife to date and only small amounts of diesel fuel at the site and in the bay. Ongoing monitoring of the shoreline, rookeries, seal resting sites and sites where other wildlife rest will continue to be undertaken by Department of Sustainability and Environment and Parks Victoria. The EPA is conducting environmental sampling at the vessel site. There has been a significant amount of debris reaching the shoreline, which is being monitored and removed daily. All current environmental monitoring by DSE, EPA and Parks Victoria has identified no adverse impact on the environment from this incident. The visible creamy-coloured plume was a result of the vessel coming into contact with the clay seabed with wave surges and has not been generated by leaking fuel”.
The vessel’s owners and crew have asked the Association to publicly thank the Port Phillip Bay Pilot who responded to a radio call and arrived within minutes to remove all crew members safely.