Image: Patrick Linehan

RECENTLY the ABC ran a story on an export marine product that’s “more lucrative than abalone”. This product sells on Asian markets for between $500 and $800 per kilo. What is it? Black jewfish swim bladders, considered to be both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac.

Demand has led to the commercial Queensland catch of this fantastic sportfish climb from about 20 tonnes per year to 140 tonnes in the 18 months to the end of 2018. There are reports of fish being dumped after having their swim bladders removed. The Queensland government reacted with commercial catch caps of 20 tonnes on the east coast and six tonnes in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Commercial operators are predictably complaining about the quotas. There’s a suspected black-market trade and the bag limit for recreational fishers has been reduced from two to one.

Just how long can we as an informed society put up with extractive industries that rip out one bit of a resource species and potentially waste the rest? It’s happened for years in various parts of Australia. Mature spawn-run sea mullet have been netted for their roes which bring big money both domestically and overseas when they’re sun-dried……over $200 per kilo in Sydney delis and fish markets. The fish themselves can end up as fertiliser or be dumped. While it’s outlawed in many places, sharks were often similarly killed just for their fins and sometimes livers, with the trunks dumped. Ecological insanity.

Us reccies aren’t without fault either. Some of my old colleagues would just cut the backstraps off big sea-run luderick to cook and throw the rest away. With careful handling and filleting, they could have had the same return from half as many retained fish.

Josh Niland from the Fish Butchery in Paddington NSW has had plenty of publicity of late for his approach of using most of a dead fish in a productive way. His utilises fish eyeballs, livers, intestines, roes and milts in the creative dishes presented in his restaurant, which is going gangbusters. It may seem odd at first, but we’ve doing the same with terrestrial animals forever….tripe, lambs fry, sweetbreads, kidneys, brains…..and I suspect our Western reticence to use every bit of a fish doesn’t extend to first nations people around the world.

My own approach is to keep fish for the table where with even my limited culinary skills I can use most of the product. I personally favour fish with a high fillet recovery, or which lend themselves to being cooked whole. I’m less inclined to keep fish to eat where much of the carcass is wasted. Some filleted heads and frames will, of course, convert to great fish stock which can be frozen for later use in all sorts of dishes.

It’s probably time for fisheries regulators to get a bit more lateral on developing rules. The weight of fish product used may be a better quota setting figure than the weight landed. We can’t just keep supporting gross waste.

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