By Anna Farmery, Gabrielle O’Kane and Gilly Hendrie
Many Australians are concerned with the sustainability of their seafood. While definitions of sustainability vary, according to government assessments, over 85% of seafood caught in Australia is sustainable.
However, just because a fish is sustainably caught, it doesn’t make it the most nutritious and healty option – and vice versa. For the first time, research has investigated the seafood Australians eat in terms of what’s best for us and the planet.
Our study, published today in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, found that Australians consume a lot of large oceanic fish, like shark and tuna, as well as farmed salmon and prawns, but there are other, healthier options available like mackerel, sardines and bream.
What Australians eat
The word seafood is used to describe thousands of different species, both marine and freshwater, and from the wild or farmed. Because of these differences, the environmental footprint of “seafood” can vary greatly, as can their nutritional profile.
Our research used data from the Australian Health Survey to investigate the nutritional quality and sustainability of seafood consumption in Australia.
We measured nutrition by the estimated contribution of 100g of a given seafood to the average requirement of protein, omega 3, calcium, iodine, selenium and zinc. Sustainability was assessed on the basis of stock status, resource use, habitat and ecosystem impacts, and health and disease management.
The majority of respondents (83%) did not consume any seafood on the day of the survey, and we found that there were large discrepancies in consumption patterns between different sociodemographic groups.
Of those who did consume seafood, the proportion was lowest among adults who were unemployed, had the least education and those who were most socio-economically disadvantaged.
Crustaceans and low-omega 3 fish, such as basa and tilapia, which were identified as some of the least nutritious and least sustainable types of seafood, constituted a substantial amount of total seafood intake for the lowest socio-economic consumers.
In contrast, consumers in the highest socio-demographic group consumed mainly high trophic level fish, such as tuna and shark, and farmed fish with high omega-3 content, such as salmon and trout, which were considered the more nutritious types of seafood with a moderate sustainability. Less than 1% of adults reported eating sardines and mackerel which were considered some of the most nutritious and sustainable varieties.
Farmery Anna K., Hendrie Gilly A., O’Kane Gabrielle, McManus Alexandra, Green Bridget S. 2018. Sociodemographic Variation in Consumption Patterns of Sustainable and Nutritious Seafood in Australia. Frontiers in Nutrition, 5:118