Published: 25 March 2024 Updated: 26 March 2024
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DATE 26 Mar 2024
FEEDBACK/STORY SUGGESTIONS Dempsey Ward Communication Coordinator +61 2 6122 2134

When eating fresh Australian seafood, consumers want confidence the fish they are eating is safe, what they paid for and comes from a healthy environment. FRDC supports and delivers a range of services to make this possible.

By Claire Crawford


Assurances of seafood safety, aquatic animal health and biosecurity and a consensus on the correct names of fish and aquatic species are all critical to the wellbeing of the Australian fishing and aquaculture sectors. They also support efforts to maintain and expand seafood market access and improve community trust in the sector.

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FRDC, through its coordination programs, bring together expert committees to lead collaborative research and optimise the efforts in addressing each of these issues.


Safe to eat  

Ensuring seafood is safe to eat underpins consumer confidence in Australian products, and this is the mandate of SafeFish. As one of FRDC’s coordination programs, SafeFish oversees initiatives on seafood safety, trade, and market access. 

The past decade has seen new safety threats such as outbreaks of toxic microalgae that temporarily affect animals, making them unsafe to eat if harvested while affected. SafeFish has led initiatives to develop ocean water sampling protocols for the algae, laboratory tests for toxins, and test kits that seafood producers can use before sending their products to market. 

It has initiated research and guidance for industry on issues such as the increasing incidence of ciguatera toxins, vibrio bacteria and microplastics in fish and providing policy advice at a domestic and international level. 

Program Manager for SafeFish Dr Alison Turnbull says the risks are so diverse that it can be difficult for regulators to keep on top of it all. 

“SafeFish provides the networking and collaboration to scan for emerging risks and delivers the research and knowledge required for standards and legislation to be developed,” she explains.


Market access

While SafeFish works on biological safety issues, the Seafood Trade Advisory Group (STAG) tackles the trade challenges of access to international markets.

STAG is guided by exporters who help prioritise trade and market access issues, providing a unified industry approach that allows it to work effectively with the Australian Government to maintain and expand export opportunities. 

When COVID-19 restrictions largely shut down international trade, STAG helped to establish the International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) which provided government subsidies for the air freight of seafood to overseas markets. 

STAG also identifies potential new market opportunities and has facilitated an agreed priority list for new species to be added to the ’approved’ list for import to China.

“Gaining and maintaining access to international markets needs a whole of industry and government approach,” says Jayne Gallagher, STAG Project Manager.  


Jayne Gallagher at teh World Seafood Congress in Portugal
Pictured: STAG Project Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Honey and Fox, Jayne Gallagher, at the World Seafood Congress 2023 in Portugal


“It needs constant attention because, as many exporters know, access to markets can sometimes be withdrawn suddenly and with a stroke of a pen. That is why the STAG exists,” Jayne says. 


Agreement on names 

When it comes to trade and domestic consumption, agreement between buyers and sellers on the exact product being traded is essential. By establishing standard naming conventions for fish and aquatic plants the Australian Fish Names Standard and the Australian Standard for Aquatic Plant Names underpin trade agreements. 

Cockles, for example, are an increasingly popular shellfish, and the name has been applied to several species of shellfish in the past. But with an increasingly discerning market, those buying Cockles (Anadara spp.) are unlikely to be happy with cockle imposters, which have included Pipis (Donax spp.) or Vongole (Katelysia spp.).

FRDC is accredited to develop Australian Standards for the seafood sector and expert committees have developed the fish names and aquatic plant names Standards. These are updated regularly, and anyone can apply for a change to either Standard. 


Animal health and biosecurity issues 

The impacts of animal health and biosecurity issues relate not just to markets, but to shared production risks within the seafood sector and accepted practices in health and treatment of animals. 

Through the Aquatic Animal Health and Biosecurity Coordination Program (AAHBCP) an expert steering scientific committee helps FRDC to manage related initiatives, prioritising and coordinating relevant research and preventing duplication of effort.

It initiates research into animal health vaccines and seeks permits for the use of existing vaccines in Australia.

Building capacity is also a priority for the AAHBCP, achieved through research collaborations, training opportunities and support for resources such as the Aquatic Animal Diseases Significant to Australia: Identification Field Guide. 

The AAHBCP also works with different aquaculture sectors and individual operators to improve surveillance and develop emergency preparedness plans.


Considering social impacts 

When it comes to the integrity of the fisheries sector itself – building trust with the broader community and equitable treatment for the sector, FRDC’s Human Dimensions Research (HDR) Coordination Program leads the way. 

Through its collaborative research efforts, support for the social and economic benefits of the fishing and seafood sector has become a core part of sustainable fisheries management and policy design.

Helping the sector prioritise communication and engagement with the community has led to an increase in independent measures of community trust. 

HDR program insights have also helped to foster effective industry collaboration, improve market performance and understand options to grow the sustainability and profitability of the sector.

Overall, the aim of FRDC’s coordination programs and services is to help to align priorities for the fishing and aquaculture sectors and use resources more effectively. 

These programs link funding research priorities and activities to the needs of end users.

This coordinated approach is helping to meet FRDC’s 2020-25 R&D plan outcomes, focused on capacity building, shaping culture, building relationships and establishing shared principles and values.