Richard Webb – Swampdog fish & chip shop owner

Why did I get involved in sustainable seafood? It’s a good question but, perhaps a better question is why didn’t I do it sooner. You see I love fish and I’m not talking about seafood here, I mean I love all types of fish and the places they live. I meet the natural world at water level and fish (for as long as I can remember) have been the conduit of that interaction. As a kid it was catching yabbies in the local creek or fishing at the local beach. Collecting bait in the shallows and rockpools.  As I grew older there were canoes, boats, goggles and snorkels, bushwalking etc. but ALWAYS involving fish. Deserts or mountain climbing are not for me…….. unless there’s an isolated tarn or rivulet up there with fish!

So the real question is – if I have always loved fish so much how did it turn out that I was writing a menu for my restaurant that included swordfish, yellowfin tuna, Atlantic salmon, ocean trout, imported prawns etc? I knew on some level that they were bad choices but they were easy to get and customers liked them or had been ‘trained’ to like them.

I had a bit of a pivotal moment a few years ago – some would call it a “Woodford moment” and decided it was time to sort my shit out. (We all have those moments when we realise we’ve sold out our idealistic youth don’t we?)

I went back to the restaurant and started slashing the tuna, swordfish etc. from my menus. But then I had a problem…. what to replace them with? Certified sustainable fisheries in my home state of Queenslandwere not just thin on the ground – they were non-existent! I wasn’t ready to put mullet on my menus (although we make some fantastic smoked mullet brandade). More research was required. My first port of call was the good people at the Australian Marine Conservation Society. I had picked up one of their flyers at the Woodford Folk Festival (the site of the afore mentioned “Woodford moment”) and it included an order-form for their newly launched Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. I also found that the ACF had also launched its healthy oceans program and associated certifications. This was a good start but still there wasn’t a lot of info on my local fisheries.

Direct contact has been the most useful to me, firstly, because I’m disorganized and time poor but also (like many chefs, I’m sure) I hate sitting down in front of a computer. The best thing about direct contact is the “sideline” info you get. You can try it- ring a barra farm and ask them about their feed conversion ratios and antibiotic use you’ll get a much more considered response than if you ask “is you fish sustainable?”. Not only that, when you get off the phone you’ll have picked up lots more info like why some sardine content is important to maintain omega profiles or how inoculation can minimize antibiotics etc.

That’s why we need an online forum like the one hosted hereabouts. We can jump online and swap ideas, ask questions chat and learn. Let’s hope it’s not just hospitality that gets involved. Let’s hope fishmongers start reading it and even professional fishers. Imagine the phone call “I read online you wanted some pole caught albacore steaks for you next menu. We’re going fishing next week and we’ll see what we can do!”

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