Fish lovers have been urged to switch to sustainable alternatives – including jellyfish and chips – after a survey found critically endangered species being sold and eaten.
Researchers from the University of Queensland warned that 92 endangered species and 11 critically endangered species were being industrially fished in oceans around the world.
Jellyfish is eaten in several Asian countries, including in jellyfish salads and even ice cream. The scientists also proposed increased use of shellfish such as abalone.
This research is published in Nature Communications.
Many consumers in Australia wrongly eat industrially-produced fish thinking it has been produced sustainably, researchers said.
They write: “Industrial-scale harvest of species at risk of extinction is controversial and usually highly regulated on land and for charismatic marine animals (e.g. whales).
“In contrast, threatened marine fish species can be legally caught in industrial fisheries.”
In reality, the researchers warned, fish bought in restaurants could easily be from endangered species.
They have called for a new approach to sourcing sustainable fish.
Student Leslie Robertson, one of the study authors, said: “We would never consider eating mountain gorillas or elephants, both of which are endangered.
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“This means that the ‘fish’, ‘flake’ or ‘cod’ that Australians typically order at the fish and chip shop could be critically endangered.
“Australian seafood is not as sustainable as consumers would like to think, and it’s definitely not in line with many of the large international conservation agreements that Australia has signed to protect threatened species and ecosystems.”
Many of the problems arise from imported fish, said Dr Carissa Klein, who is researching Australia’s seafood consumption.
Klein said: “Australia imports around 75% of the seafood we consume and is internationally regarded as having effective conservation and fisheries management policies.
“When importing seafood from other places, we are displacing any social or environmental problems associated with fishing to that place, which is likely to have less capacity to sustainably manage its ocean.”
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The researchers said the number of threatened species they recorded was a very conservative estimate.
Robertson said it was difficult to keep track of the fishing industry’s complex supply chains.
“The seafood industry is difficult to manage from a conservation perspective because it has supply chains that span multiple international waters, without a governing body,” she said.
“A typical situation might look something like a fishing boat operating in Australian waters, owned by a Chinese company, with a crew of fishermen from the Philippines.
“Then one part of the fish might get processed in China, and the other can go to Europe.
“We don’t know what we’re eating, it’s really hard to trace seafood back to its origin and species because the industry is such a mess.”