'Baby' fish on menu fires up an ethics row

TONY WALL
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014

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Restaurants routinely advertise baby chicken, baby squid or baby carrots - but it seems "baby snapper" is taking it too far.

Recreational fishing lobby group LegaSea has named and shamed a restaurant that advertised baby snapper, sparking a furious online debate around snapper size limits and the ethics of businesses promoting small fish.

The row began when Dixie Brown's in Mt Maunganui placed a sandwich board outside its Marine Parade restaurant advertising a lunch dish of "baby snapper infused with lemon and rosemary".

That prompted LegaSea to post a picture of the board on its Facebook page pointing out that snapper stocks in the Bay of Plenty are in a state of collapse and "this restaurant . . . is advertising baby snapper as if it's a delicacy".

The group said the issue illustrated problems with the Government's decision to increase the minimum snapper size limit for recreational fishers from 27cm to 30cm from April 1 while allowing commercial operators to continue landing 25cm fish.

Several people posted comments saying diners should boycott the restaurant but others said it was disgraceful that LegaSea was shaming a business that had done nothing wrong.

"As a chef I have in the past advertised exactly the same using snapper purchased through a reputable wholesaler and market. Colourful language is used to attract tourists, and this is exactly what this place has used. Check the facts before slagging somebody and killing a business," one poster wrote.

Dixie Brown's owner Michael Opperman said he was offered eight whole "baby snapper" by his supplier as a one-off. All were above the legal limit but because they were on the small side, "we decided to call them baby snapper".

"We made it sound like one person could eat it, it's not a massive snapper that no-one's going to finish. I could have put baby chicken or squid or peas."

Opperman said he had spoken to LegaSea about its concerns and he would not promote baby snapper again. "I never knew how strongly people feel about it."

Mandy Kupenga of LegaSea said the incident nicely illustrated the point the group was trying to get across about snapper size limits. Snapper that were 25cm long were essentially "babies", she said.

"There's no reason the commercial sector should take that size, apart from the fact they've created a market for it, it's a commercial decision.

"Their argument has been in the past that their trawl gear is not that selective, so they would be killing these fish [anyway] if they weren't' selling them. But with new trawl technology that argument no longer stands."

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Kupenga said taking small fish impacted hugely on fish stocks.

"With these smaller fish being taken, they're not getting to grow to a reproductive size to contribute back into the fishery."

Restaurant Association head Marisa Bidois said restaurants often came up with descriptive wording for dishes.

"I have seen baby snapper on menus before, definitely not often. In my mind when I read ‘baby snapper' I assume it was legal but a smaller fish. I guess it sounds better than ‘small fish'."

Bidois said restaurant owners should think carefully about how they described fish. "There is a lot of emotion around it so it's probably not a good idea to use the description ‘baby'."

But Seafood NZ chief executive Tim Pankhurst said there was nothing wrong with what Dixie Brown's had done.

"The restaurant is simply enticing customers to eat fresh, delicious fish. People happily eat lamb. Why should sweet, young fish be treated differently, as long as they are legally sized?"

- Sunday Star Times

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