Standards help secure seafood confidence

Creating standards for the Australian fishing industry will help to ensure consistency and confidence in the way seafood is produced and marketed, ultimately improving sales and profitability

By Alan Snow and Sevaly Sen

When consumers buy a fish, they want to know that they are getting what they pay for, whether that is Barramundi or Blue-eye Trevalla. Increasingly, consumers also want to know where their fish has come from and how it was harvested.

And the FRDC is now in a stronger position to help the seafood industry deliver on this increasing demand for consistently available and reliable information as an accredited Standards Development Organisation.

This means it has been accredited by Standards Australia “todevelop Australian Standards in the fields of terminology, sustainability and operational practices in the fishing industry”.

What is a standard?

Standards are published documents setting out specifications and procedures designed to ensure products, services and systems are safe, reliable and consistently perform the way they were intended to; users can make reliable assumptions about a particular product, service or practice. Standards can be applied at an international, regional or national level, or within a private organisation. Compliance with standards can be either mandatory (regulated by government) or voluntary.

Conformance to a standard means that the ‘requirements’ of the standard/specification are met as measured by conformance criteria. This process is called a conformity assessment (CA).

Australian Standards are developed by a Standard Development Organisation  that has been accredited by the national Accreditation Board for Standards Development Organisations (ABSDO) – the FRDC is one such organisation. A formal and technically robust process is involved in developing a standard, although conformance with a standard does not necessarily lead to any kind of certification.

There are also Standards Development Organisations that can only develop private standards – these organisations are not accredited by the ABSDO. Private standards are voluntary and are developed by entities other than government (companies, NGOs, stakeholder associations) known as Standards Setting Organisations.

There are many private standards in the food and seafood sector including those of the Marine Stewardship Council, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Responsible Fisheries Management and the Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries scheme.

These have usually been developed in response to a perception that public standards or regulatory frameworks are failing to achieve certain outcomes (sustainability and responsible fisheries management, food safety assurance, animal ethics, child labour) and/or where there is a desire to differentiate certain products or operators in the market. They may or may not be publicly available.

Private standards do not have to go through the processes specified by Standards Australia, although it is generally accepted that a credible standard should be developed by following three internationally recognised principles:

  • openness and transparency of process;
  • consensus; and
  • balance of representation.

Benchmarking

In addition to standards, benchmarks provide a set of criteria and indicators to measure and compare the performance of different standards, codes and guidelines. The aim is to avoid duplication and encourage harmonisation and, ultimately, reduce cost.

In the seafood industry the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) is developing a benchmark for seafood standards so that a seafood supplier can (a) know which standards meet the benchmark and (b) select one that best fits their requirements, therefore avoiding the need for dual or multiple certifications. Benchmarks have been used in food safety with great success.  

The GSSI is focused on benchmarking private voluntary schemes only. However, this could conceivably be extended to other codes, guidelines and policies as well as government standards and legislation.

Traceability

The finfish traceability standard and chain-of-custody certification can also help consumers make informed decisions. Traceability is the process of tracking seafood from its origins through all stages along the supply chain to the retailer. It is fundamental to ensuring accurate labelling and food safety, especially in the event of a product recall.

Chain-of-custody certification occurs against a chain-of-custody standard audited by a third party to ensure that products labelled as coming from a certified fishery come from that fishery.

The term ‘chain of custody’ is used when all steps, including processes, transportation and ownership of that product, are accurately documented and proven secure from loss in traceability.

Chain of custody has an identified start and end point for the product. For seafood, this can be at a point of harvest, of landing or first sale to a point of final consumer packaging.

Australian Fish Names Standard

In order to trace a fish’s origin and its path to market, it is essential that each species is uniquely identified by a single name used consistently throughout the supply chain. To assist with this, the FRDC maintains the Australian Fish Names Standard (AS 5300), which defines the names to be used for all fish and seafood in Australia.

It includes a prescribed standard fish name for almost 5000 species of Australian and imported fish produced or traded in Australia. Most are finfish, but there are plans to add more crustaceans, molluscs and sharks.

Standard 2.2.3 of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 Food Standards Code recommends the use of the names in the Australian Fish Names Standard.

The standard specifies that fish sold to consumers, for example retail sales and restaurants, must be identified by their standard fish name.Fish not sold directly to consumers (for example, wholesale, export and import) must be identified by their standard fish name or scientific name.

Standard names allow for more effective fisheries monitoring and management, which in turn results in greater sustainability of fisheries resources. Traceability and food-safety management can also improve seafood marketing campaigns and reduce the potential for misleading and deceptive conduct, resulting in a more profitable industry.

The searchable online standard fish names database includes all species listed in the Australian Fish Names Standard. Users can find a fish by name and read its previous or non-standard names as well as viewing an image in some cases.

Naming a fish

The FRDC’s Fish Names Committee (FNC) determines whether to change or add a name to the Australian Fish Names Standard through a rigorous process that includes public consultation and consensus decision-making.

The FNC includes representatives of all major stakeholders in the seafood industry and is chaired by Gus Dannoun from Sydney Fish Market.

FNC protocols have been developed by some of Australia’s best taxonomic experts and also consider the market appeal of a proposed name.

Industry input

All participants in the seafood industry can contribute to the fish naming process. Consider the species and the names currently assigned to the species, particularly if they were bycatch in the past and are now commercial species. Does the name have market appeal and is there a better name?

When proposed amendments are circulated for public consultation, consider the proposal and make comments, even if it is a simple “yes, I support this name”.

Also remember to forward to all of your contacts, as they may have an interest in the proposal.


How to change or add a fish name:

  • Discuss a proposed name with the secretary of the Fish Names Committee (FNC) before lodging an application to check whether the proposed name already exists or whether the species already has a name. 
  • Submit the application. As part of this application process, evaluate the proposed name against the fish names protocols. The application form can be downloaded from the FRDC Seafood Standards website.
  • The FNC secretary will check the proposed amendment for consistency and spelling and proper scientific name and make any changes in consultation with the applicant.
  • The FNC secretary will provide additional information, which typically includes all names historically used for the species, other names used in Australia and internationally, the names used for closely related species, and any other information that may be helpful.
  • The FNC will meet to evaluate the proposed amendment, calling on the expertise of committee members and information provided by the applicant and FNC secretary. If approved, the proposed amendment is sent for public consultation.
  • A three-month public consultation is conducted by sending all information about the proposed amendment to as many interested persons in the Australian seafood industry as possible. This relies on emails to key stakeholders who forward the email to all people in their contact lists.
  • Respondents can provide information via email, fax, letter, or (the preferred) online feedback process that has been developed.
  • All feedback on the proposed amendment is collated and sent to the FNC for final evaluation at its next meeting. A consensus decision with at least two-thirds majority of voting members in favour of the proposed amendment is required.
  • If approved, the Australian Fish Names Standard is amended accordingly and the online searchable database is updated immediately with the change.

SAI Global prints updates of the Australian Fish Names Standards, the latest of which,Australian Fish Names Standard AS 5300-2015, was published in April/May 2015.


FRDC Research Code: 2013-023.20

More information

Alan Snow, Fish Names Committee,

0418 199 516, fnc@frdc.com.au