Preserving the Prawn
Given it's a global crustacean, Australia has no claim to the humble prawn, but despite this, it has become a symbol of our cultural and culinary identity.
As a land girt by sea with a relatively small population, we have managed our marine resources well. But when it comes to prawns, we import almost 70 percent of what we consume and while a large percentage of that is of a size that we would ‘put on the barbie’, getting closer to a species that we love is important in understanding how good our prawns and our industry are.
Provenance is key to understanding our food. Knowing where something comes from is a step towards comprehending the efforts and challenges in producing it, so that we can appreciate its true value. To help get us closer to our seafood, Selector has teamed up with Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC) to produce a series of stories that will reveal the workings of our fishing industry through three Australian favourites: prawns, whiting and orange roughy.
Sustaining our Seafood
When it comes to sustainability, it’s all about industry players: aquaculture, commercial, Indigenous and recreational, working together, focusing on monitoring and coming up with a measurement that all can work to. In 1991 the FRDC was created between industry and government and the measurement that resulted was SAFS; Status of Australian Fish Stocks.
These assessments are constant and determine if a species is sustainable and influences how each species is regulated and managed. As a marker, the FRDC releases a SAFS report every two years, which is a comprehensive overview of 120 species commonly found at retail outlets and restaurants.
The next SAFS report is due later this year, but the last report indicated that 80 percent of the 120 species across
406 stocks could be assessed and of that, 85 percent were considered sustainable.
This nearly 30-year focus on our fisheries has yielded strong results and whilst there will always be challenges, Australia is now considered to have the safest, most regulated, environmentally adroit fishing industries in the world.
We love our prawns, consuming 15 million kilograms per year with 40 percent (6 million kilograms) of that over the Christmas period. There are primarily five main species we tuck into: Tiger, Endeavour, Banana, King and School. Of that total, 16 percent are farmed and all are considered sustainable.
Of the wild caught, two fisheries that regularly attract high prices are the King prawns of South Australia’s Spencer Gulf and the jumbo Tiger prawns of the Northern Prawn Fishery in NT’s Gulf of Carpentaria. Chefs prize both prawns because they know that their customers are happy to pay for provenance and they are supremely delicious, always.
Third Generation Spencer Gulf Prawn fisherman Ash Lukin is in it for the long haul and while he has seen changes to the way prawns are caught in the Gulf, he’s happy there is a strong future.
“In the old days, the fishery did get worked too hard,” explains Ash. “It wasn’t as well managed, but they realised and made changes. Back when my dad was fishing, he would go out 300 nights a year and now we are catching the same volume but across 50.”
“It’s much harder work,” he continues, “we can’t afford any downtime, we are told when we can start and when we can stop and if you miss a night, it’s detrimental. We are heavily regulated but the measures that we have in place work brilliantly; it is fair, efficient and keeps our fishery healthy.”
Dylan Skinns, GM of Sales and Marketing at Austral Fisheries, which catches a highly regarded Tiger Prawn marketed under the Skull Island brand, has a similar view and goes further to explain that sustainability for them goes beyond stock health to areas such as carbon neutrality and bycatch reduction.
“Back in the 80s, there were over 300 boats trawling across the Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) and now there are 50,” explains Dylan. “We are a certified carbon neutral fleet and offset our footprint by planting trees and we have worked hard on reducing our bycatch and since introducing TEDs (Turtle Exclusion Devices) in 2001, not one turtle has ended up in our nets.”
What Can You Do?
If you love your seafood and want to learn more, download the SAFS app (fish.gov.au/app) to check on the health of each species before you buy.
Also look for fishers and farmers with third party certification such as the Marine Stewardship Council, check out australianprawns.com.au and always make a point of asking where your seafood comes from.
Know your prawn:
Banana: Sweet and medium sized with a mild flavour. Perfect for light, delicate dishes.
King (Western, Eastern and Red Spot): Sweet and large, salty and rich. Fantastic all-rounder.
Tiger (Brown and Grooved): Earthy and large, medium flavoured. Great for barbeque and stews.
School: Sweet and small. Perfect for frying or steamed in salads.
Endeavour (Red and Blue): Sweet, small and medium, strong flavoured. Ideal for dipping and stews.