Nothing fishy about food labelling shake up 

Karen Mitchell from Goolwa Fish Cafe says she uses local fish where she can. Photo: Anthony Caggiano
Karen Mitchell from Goolwa Fish Cafe says she uses local fish where she can. Photo: Anthony Caggiano

South Australia’s humble fish and chip shops are in the sights of a new food labelling debate over whether customers should be told if their battered butter fish was caught locally or imported.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon plans to introduce legislation into federal parliament in  February, in a bid to make fish and chip owners label imported seafood products on menu boards.

At the same time, independent South Australian MLC John Darley will push the cause in state parliament.

“The legislation will be based on law introduced in the Northern Territory in 2008 which require fish retailers serving imported seafood to clearly identify if the product is imported,” said Senator Xenophon.

“Consumers have a right to know if the fish they are eating is imported from overseas or from local waters.”

If successful, the new laws would have wide-ranging consequences for the hundreds of fish and chip retailers across the state.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) estimates that around 70 per cent of the seafood consumed in Australia is imported.

Vietnam, Thailand and China supply more than three quarters of our total prawn imports with with South Africa, Argentina and Namibia also contributing large volumes of hake, the AMCS said.

While individual retailers will react differently to the proposal, Karen Mitchell from Goolwa Fish Cafe is a supporter.

She said her store had a focus on local producers where possible but issues including marine parks made it difficult.

"I can't get fish from the Coorong. It's easier to get it from overseas," she said.

Ms Mitchell said a piece of Australian barramundi could cost $12 before being on-sold to the public.

"Customers understand the situation for us but sometimes they kind of look like we're trying to pull the wool over their eyes," she said.

"On the menu board, it says the butterfish might be hake or cod so people know what the fish is.

"We don't have the word 'imported' up but if people ask if it's local or imported, we do tell them. Customers have a right to know where their dinner comes from."

A spokeswoman for Senator Xenophon said fish shop owners would be given the chance to have input after the legislation was introduced.