Sustainability and the sea: how to choose environmentally-friendly seafood

Cooked prawns on a wooden board with lime, herbs and mayo

Nicola Dowse

Posted October 04, 2022

Most seafood is a healthy, a nutrient-rich source of protein, and delicious. But when it comes to environmental sustainability, the waters get murky.

Whether it be for personal, health or environmental reasons, more people are opting to eat less red meat and more plants, with 2022 data showing more than one in ten Australians are now following vegetarian or vegan diets.  

So where does that leave fish? 

From a health perspective, fish is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and a range of vitamins and minerals. The National Health and Medical Research Council advises that eating fish regularly lowers your risk of conditions like dementia, stroke and heart disease, recommending that Australians consume between 140 to 280 grams per week to reap the benefits.

But in terms of sustainability, the waters are a little murkier.

A fillet of grilled barramundi sitting on steamed Asian greens

Fish is a nutrient-rich source of protein, but there are a few environmental factors to consider when purchasing. Photo: Getty.

What makes seafood sustainable?

Sustainably-sourced fresh fish and seafood feature across multiple RACV Club dining venues, but according to RACV Club Executive Chef, Jason Camillo, it can be tricky choosing the most sustainable option.  

“In general, we are looking for fish which aren’t declining in stock and are plentiful,” Camillo says. “For finding out what is sustainable or not, we use the Sustainable Seafood Guide.”

The GoodFish Sustainable Seafood Guide is an initiative of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) established in 2004 in response to consumer demand. 

“The GoodFish Guide helps seafood lovers make sustainable choices in fishmongers, supermarkets and in restaurants so they can be safe in the knowledge their feasts are ocean-friendly as well as delicious,” says Stephanie McGee, GoodFish program manager at AMCS.

The fully independent online guide allows you to search through dozens of species available in Australia, rating them using a three-tier traffic light system based on the latest scientific data on fisheries.  

“Our assessors consider the whole interconnected ocean ecosystem, bycatch, and habitat impacts, not just the targeted fish stocks when making ratings,” McGee says.

Green-rated species are those which are not overfished and are resilient to fishing pressure at current rates. They’re also caught (or farmed) using methods with a minimal environmental impact. 

A yellow rating asks consumers to eat less of a particular species due to current fishing pressures, environmentally damaging fishing or farming practices, or uncertainty about stock levels. 

Red ratings are for species that GoodFish recommends consumers avoid due to overfishing or bycatch (additional species caught as a by-product of catching the intended species) concerns, or because of the impact farming the fish places on the environment. 

“Australia’s oceans contain the richest, most diverse life on Earth - but our oceans are not an endless resource,” says McGee.

“Too many fisheries are still not doing the right thing to ensure fish stocks, wildlife and habitat are healthy into the future.”


Someone squeezing fresh lemon on an oyster

By talking to your local fishmonger, consumers can make sustainable choices about the seafood they eat. Photo: Getty.

The most sustainable seafood to eat

Eating sustainable seafood won’t limit your dining at all, with dozens of species of fish, molluscs and shellfish available as better choices. 

Please note that this list is non-exhaustive and the location that the fish is caught also can affect its sustainability status due to local fishing practices, regulations or differences in population health between regions. 

If you’re unsure about the providence of your fish, Camillo recommends heading to your local seafood market and getting to know your fishmongers. 

“Most Australian fish go through either Sydney or Melbourne fish markets and each of these are identified by where they are caught and by which method,” he says. “By having a good relationship with your seafood suppliers they should be able to tell you this.”


There are plenty of fish in the sea that won’t significantly impact the environment.

Murray cod was famously almost fished to extinction in the 1800s, but when farmed is an ecologically sound (not to mention delicious) choice that’s available in RACV Club dining venues. “The brilliant white flesh and delicate flavour lends itself to steaming,” Camillo says.

King George whiting is another “members favourite” according to Camillo, who notes it’s important that check that the whiting is wild-caught, not trawled.

Victorian wild-caught snapper, southern garfish, silver trevally, rock flathead, and sardines are likewise all sustainable dinner options. If you’ve a hankering for barramundi, make sure it’s from a farm. 

Try swapping in one of these fish in this simple, diabetic-friendly steamed fish recipe.


Throw as many prawns as you like on the barbie. This popular shellfish is farmed in Australia (NSW and Queensland) with minimal effect on the environment. If craving king prawns, choose western king prawns from South Australia. 

Wild caught eastern and western rock lobsters as well as farmed marron are also a good choice if you’re after shellfish.


You can still enjoy oyster happy hour with farmed oysters having a very low impact on the ecosystem – they actually feed by filtering water and as such can improve water quality. You can even find out more about these bivalves by going on a tour that lets you taste oysters straight from the ocean

Blue mussels farmed in Victoria are also low impact filter feeds that are another sustainable choice, as are farmed abalone.

Fans of calamari will be pleased to hear squid (Southern Calamari and Gould’s Squid) is an eco-conscious meal, so long as it’s caught using a squid jig or haul nets. These are the methods used in Victoria and South Australia, so opt for this point of origin wherever possible. 

Sojourn, for example, sources its Southern calamari from Apollo Bay, serving the sustainable catch with blood orange, wild garlic and warrigal greens.

The sustainability of octopus depends on the place of origin – visit the GoodFish website for more information.


A pile of fried calamari on a wooden serving board with a lemon wedge

Calamari is a sustainable seafood option, so long as the squid is sourced using a squid jig or haul net. Photo: Getty.

Is canned tuna environmentally-friendly? 

Canned tuna is a staple in many households as an affordable, versatile, and tasty source of protein.  

The good news is tinned tuna can be an eco-friendly fish choice, so long as you choose carefully.  

Read the label when purchasing your tuna to check for the individual species and how the fish was caught.  

The most sustainable species to eat is Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) that is caught using pole-and-line, or purse seine (floating net) methods.  

Purse seine catching is only sustainable if it does not also use a fish aggregation device (also known as an FAD). If your tuna is purse seine caught but doesn’t specify that it is FAD-free, it may be a more sustainable option to choose a pole-and-line caught brand instead.  

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