Australians have access to thousands of locally-caught commercial fish species, but most people only eat about 20 types.
- Underutilised fish species might not suit all consumers’ palates but others are just not very well known
- Many types are caught when fishing for more popular species, known as bycatch
- Switching from meat to certain underutilised fish species could be good for the environment
That is according to Sydney Fish Market tour guide Alex Stollznow, who said this summer Australians may want to consider trying a few of the more unusual species they see at their fish shops.
“With these underutilised species supply always outstrips demand, which means you’re going to be paying much lower than you should for a really high-quality piece of fish,” he said.
Many underutilised species end up in fish shops when fishers accidentally catch them when fishing for other species such as snapper and King George whiting.
“For most of the species that we don’t pay a lot for there will be an equivalent overseas, somewhere, where it is highly prized,” Mr Stollznow said.
Squid has not always been popular in Australia.
However, Mr Stollznow said as Australia became more multicultural, calamari became a staple of Australian cuisine.
“Now, good squid, which is line-caught southern calamari from South Australia for example, that’s $40 a kilo on its day.”
However, Mr Stollznow said Australians have not paid much attention to Gould’s squid.
“These are the oceanic squid. They live out in the ocean they’re fed upon by tuna. As a result these guys can fly horizontally up to 50 feet through the air by expelling water out of their body,” he said.
They are normally caught when trawlers are attempting to bring in flathead, flounder, or blue swimmer crabs.
Mr Stollznow said once a cook has plucked the heads and guts out, skinned it, and unrolled the membrane, they could cut the squid up, coat it, and fry it for entrees.
Consumers may start seeing more ocean jacket in shops.
It is an oily leatherjacket fish mainly caught in the Great Australian Bight in traps or by trawlers, mostly by accident.
However, South Australian seafood processor Mori Seafood recently received funding through the State Government’s Regional Growth Fund to help with processing, exporting, and marketing the fish.
Mori Seafood’s Andrew Ferguson said the company plans to market more ocean jacket to Australians.
“The problem we’ve got is we’ve got too few species [which consumers demand] which actually pushes the price of those species higher when there are some more affordable spaces that are just as good quality,” he said.
“Ocean jackets have obviously been part of the fishery for the last 30 years and has been caught on and off, but it’s not known widely across the local market.
“But it is an excellent eating fish, lovely white flesh.
Do not let the name fool you — these fish have no relation to Atlantic salmon.
Mr Stollznow said these fish could be fantastic to make fish fingers and at about a third of the cost per kilo compared with Atlantic salmon.
“The best thing about Australian salmon is that big fillet. You can cut that up into bite-sized bits and that’s your piece for the kids,” he said.
Mr Stollznow said one reason Australian salmon might not be more popular was due to mistakes people made during skinning.
“The thing with salmon is that they primarily feed on bait fish and that imparts quite a briny oiliness, particularly around the belly where it can get quite fatty,” he said.
“So this is a really good fish for skinning, filleting, and once you skin it you’ll see there’s quite a lot of bloodline.
“They’re a very athletic fish, they jump out of the water. But if you remove that bloodline when you skin it you take away a lot of the strong flavour, which is what puts some people off.
“Of course, the fish shop can do it for you.”
Seafood Industry Australia CEO Veronica Papacosta said there were efforts underway to make Australian salmon more palatable for consumers.
“However, there is a group in Western Australia called Mendolia which is looking at skinning Australia salmon and adding other flavours and it actually tastes quite good.”
Consumers could find Boarfish for roughly the same price per kilo as snapper, but Mr Stollznow said there was an important difference between the two.
The boarfish is better.
“These are a superior table fish, they offer more flavour,” he said.
“Snapper is a fantastic fish, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put anything down.
“Just because something is ubiquitous doesn’t mean it’s better.”
Mr Stollznow recommends consumers get a fishmonger to scale it for them and remove the gills and guts.
“All you need to do then is stuff it with whatever flavours you’re going for. Can’t go wrong with lemon, garlic and parsley. Then straight on the barbecue with a direct high heat,” he said.
“You don’t need to foil parcel, but of course that would work too.”
Better for the environment
Increased use of some underutilised species could also be good for the environment, according to Professor Caleb Gardner, head of the University of Tasmania’s Fishery and Aquaculture Centre.
He said due to how fisheries are managed, eating less of the more popular seafood species would not decrease how much of them are caught.
“It’s complicated, because a lot of people think if you choose not to eat a fish in high demand you’re taking pressure of them. That’s often not quite the case,” Professor Gardner said.
“That’s because there’s really strong management for all of these high demand species.
“Mackerel, for example, are one of these species where we have about 100,000 tonnes of uncaught catch in Australia.
“Mackerel have very little bycatch, there’s clearly no land clearing. If you’re eating fish rather than something from the land there’s no use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers.
“Other sorts of pollution tend to be very low in mackerel fishing because they can be caught very efficiently and under very low greenhouse gas emissions.
“Across any measure you’re looking at, if we can shift consumption towards some underutilised species — particularly species that are large abundance schooling species like macros and sardines — that almost inevitably leads to great environmental outcomes.”