Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bluefin Blues

A few years ago, in the back of a refurbished refrigerator truck set up with a solar generated DVD player, I lay back on a bed comprised of cow hide and watched The End of the Line, a movie about the collapse of the world's fish stocks. It was with some apprehension that I watched the movie. At the time I was fishing the inlets full time and I wanted to see what they were saying about us fishermen and women. I thought these marine environmentalists would be gunning for folk like me ... but towards the end I realised that the movie actually backed up what I'd been writing and thinking about for a few years now.
"If you are going to buy seafood, ask the supplier where it comes from. Make sure it's a sustainable resource. Don't buy the stuff that is under threat. Get informed."

After that, I emailed the marine conservation organisation for their sustainable seafood shopping guide. It's the size of your average driver's licence and they sent me a wad of about 3000 copies once I told them that I sold fish every week at the local farmer's market. Their guide is not too bad for accuracy, albeit a couple of local glitches. Looking at their traffic light system (Red - don't buy, Yellow - Aw, maybe, Green - sustainable) the other fishermen said, "Yes, well, it's okay but there's some species in there that I wouldn't work because there are not enough around to make any money out of." (A fisherman's term for scarce) One bloke poked at the pilchards, of all things. "They're rare as hens teeth here. Why are they called sustainable in this guide?"

Here is the rub. Old Salt tried to entice me out fishing for crabs recently because he'd heard from Kaillis that blue mannas were fetching an obscene amount per kilo; twice what we normally sold them for. He got so wet on the price offered that he forgot about the breeding season. Every pot we pulled up was full of berried female crabs that we had to chuck them all back and we didn't make a single dollar. That was why the price was so high of course. Supply and demand. But imagine if we'd killed the pig that day? We would have made a squillion.

Last week a restaurateur in Japan paid 1.7 million dollars AUD for a single blue fin tuna. Yes, the same price you'd pay for a quarter acre block in Port Hedland. One point seven million bucks ...
This price and the prestige that goes with it troubles me, before I even get to rant about real estate agents in West Australia.

At the markets Old Salt and I charge roughly ten dollars a kilo for fish we'd caught, like, yesterday. This particular Bluefin was asking seven thousand six hundred and thirty dollars a kilo. At that price, these fish are well worth killing. Their flesh, worth more dead than alive, are akin to rhinoceros's horn and elephant's tusk. It's worth goes up with its scarcity. It's just like gold, except you don't have to kill gold.

The price that this restaurateur paid and the economic status that he will, and has already received from the publicity following his purchase strikes me as an obscenity. It's not just rude. It goes beyond bad manners. It is just a plain old obscenity.

This video below is from the movie End of the Line. It's got some blood in it, as a trigger warning to those who may get flaky. Fishing will always bloody and it is hard to kill critters who are hellbent on living when they are on the deck and thrashing about around your boots. (Especially stingrays and sharks. Drama drama.)

I guess I just want to say, have a think about all this next time you go to the supermarket. Think about what is going on and then if you can, avoid the multi nationals and the more expensive top end of town: head down to the local fish monger and ask them to give you the lowdown on where your fodder really comes from.


  1. I would much rather see this than a 'humane' and automated killing system. Hands-on is honest. I wish they killed my mutton on the farm, with a bullet to the head in the field, rather than the 'humane' system imposed by people who do not understand.

  2. Bloody obscene.....I couldn't agree more Sarah. And good on you for keeping the fire alive. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have all but given up. I will continue to vote with my feet, my pocket and vote Green - so thanks for the info. But a simple thing like watching the tourists at the beach with the tap full on, dithering, allowing their kids to waste yet another precious resource. Arrrrgghhh! Climate change? Global warming? Food shortages? Duh....what are THEY? WE'RE having a good time!

    Most people don't even know, or care, that the planet is in crisis.

  3. Yes hands on is best, I agree Tom. But my point was ... oh what was it again? A species worth so much more money dead than alive is doomed in this economy. That's it.

  4. Doomed. Sad to have to agree - unless it was a rare gold plated tuna.
    we have a great fishmonger right in the centre of brisbane who seels only sustainable stuff and sources it himself daily. Only stocks moderate quantities and as much local as possible.
    Spaking of climate change - I'm reading 'Flight Behaviour' by Barbara Kinsolver at the moment. It's a well written piece with "science" of all things at its centre; and poverty and misunderstanding and confusion and sex and family nad the end of the planet - well almost.

  5. Goodness! It sounds like a good read.
    Your fishmonger sounds like he knows what he is on about too.