ENVIRONMENT: Very fishy…

We’ve got a rich history of confusing or misleading fish names.

LAST week the ABC’s Radio Sydney reported on moves in the US state of Illinois to change the name of carp to copi, in an attempt to increase its appeal to the US fish-eating public. Copi because it’s copious. Illinois has a similar problem with Asian carp as we have with common carp here, that is they have a habit of taking over waters they inhabit and displace native species. Asian carp have already had one name change in these politically correct times, from “Asian” to invasive carp. But “invasive” isn’t an improvement in marketing terms.

The Yanks have also been caught up in “catfish naming wars” for about 20 years. Via intensive aquaculture, their channel catfish became a major seller both though supermarkets and restaurants. But then massive amounts of Vietnamese catfish started turning up. It’s cheaper to buy and looks and tastes much the same. it’s white and has a mild flavour. After much lobbying it was decided that the Vietnamese product had to be marketed as tra, pangasius or basa. And to further differentiate the local product, the channel cat marketers introduced a “grade A” skinned fillet line called delacata. Silly old USA. Couldn’t happen here, could it? Well, our supermarket freezers are full of frozen basa cuts and if you order unspecified fish and chips in a club or pub, chances are it’ll be basa. Cheap and cheerful, and when it was first introduced to Australia it was marketed as Pacific dory. That stopped when our regulators accepted that it wasn’t a dory and didn’t come from the Pacific…

We’ve got a rich history of confusing or misleading fish names, and that continues today. Hake is gemfish. Hoki is blue grenadier. Silver cobbler is catfish. Black trevally is black spinefoot, aka “happy moments” due to its venomous spines. Flake of course is shark… of assorted species. An old villain I used to fish with sold everything he caught in pub corners, including the much-despised rock cale or cockie, which he headed and described as “rock whiting.”

Back in 1947 a bunch of fisheries managers and scientists met in an attempt to sort out the confusion caused by the plethora of names used to describe fish of the same species across Australia’s states. NSW generously proposed that, as the biggest state, all its fish names should be adopted. Funnily enough, the other states disagreed, and after much-horse trading some odd choices were made. The fish known as blackfish in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and NSW was officially given the Victorian name luderick. NSW’s and Queensland’s jewfish was renamed mulloway, as it was called in South Australia. And 75 years later, walk into most NSW fish markets and you’ll find blackfish and jewfish on offer, not luderick and mulloway. Never mind the federal approach, some things never change.


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