Australians love their seafood. On average we each eat 18kgs of it a year.
Feasting on Australian seafood is an unbeatable, healthy treat. Fish and crustaceans like yellow-fin and big-eye tuna omega3 laden mackerel and our world-class Banana, Endeavour and Tiger prawns.
But what a lot of people don't realise is that almost three quarters of our seafood is imported, and a worrying amount of imported seafood is contaminated and unsafe for human consumption.More stories from Today Tonight
Nothing can beat our locally produced seafood for taste or safety, but soon we may not be able to get our hands on it.
The reason: our fisheries have been banned from catches in 3.2 million square kilometres of ocean - right around the continent - almost third the size of Australia.
In 40 new Commonwealth Marine Reserves, no commercial fishing is allowed except with special permits.
And if we can't get enough seafood locally, the solution is more imported, and potentially dangerous, seafood.
Food safety consultant Gary Kennedy warns we’re already seeing inferior products in our fish shops and supermarkets.
“In Australia in the last year there have been dozens of shipments of seafood that have been rejected either for microbiological or chemical reasons,” he tells Today Tonight
“We see listeria, salmonella - it's not found in Australian seafood - appearing in imported seafood,” he warns.
Already, only 28% of the seafood we eat is caught or farmed in Australia.72% is imported, mainly from Asian countries with far lower standards of fisheries' sustainability and management.
Australia is ranked 4th highest of 52 countries surveyed for sustainability.
Some of the top exporters to Australia rank much lower, with Thailand coming in at 42nd, China 22nd, Vietnam 45th.
27% of our imported seafood comes from Thailand, 17% from New Zealand and 15% each from China and Vietnam, as well as Malaysia, India, Africa.
Now with Marine Reserves restricting fishing, fishermen like Bob Lamerson of Great Barrier Reef Tuna, warn they'll be forced to close.
“There will be more imports by a long-shot coming in, [from] Indonesia, particularly, Thailand and Fiji.”
“We won't be able to get any fish whatsoever,” he says, “We're not running out of fish. We are running out of fishermen”
Mackerel fisherman, David Wren from Kurumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria says there's no hope.
“We've got all these tonnes and tonnes of fish that we can't sell, there's too much imported fish on the market,” he claims. “We just can't sell our Mackerel on the market, all the cheap imports are inundating our markets.”
Mr Kennedy says all Aussie seafood consumers have reason to be alarmed.
“We're not inferring all Asian imports are bad - but the safety record is disturbing.”
“The latest shock, China, one of the main culprits of food contaminated with e-coli from pig and human faeces, has banned all seafood imports from Vietnam, claiming they may cause hazardous diseases.”
Amazingly, while even China bans them, Australia is increasing imports of Vietnamese Vannamei prawns and cheap Basa, a catfish farmed in pens lining the muddy Mekong Delta.
Alongside these aquafarms flows sewerage and washing water from homes, rubbish dumps and run-offs from agriculture and factories.
“We've certainly found pesticide residues, we've found antibiotic residues, some antibiotics not allowed in Australia and we've found a number of food poisoning pathogens,” Mr Kennedy says.
Importers of Asian seafood in Australia say the Mekong Delta River tests have found no contaminants. But it depends where you test.
When Today Tonight went to Vietnam, in the Mekong Delta water we found high levels of faecal matter.
“The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service takes samples of seafood before it comes into Australia, usually as it arrives,” Mr Kennedy says.
“But only 5% of shipments are sampled, which of course means 95% of shipments come straight in with no sampling at all. Of those samples, of course they only sample a small part of the shipment.”
“Really, we're just testing the tip of the iceberg,” he warns.
In the past year, Australia’s quarantine inspectors "Failed" shipments in Australia from Vietnam 22 times for Basa fish containing prohibited antibiotics.
Officials "Failed" prawns with Vibrio Cholera bacteria and the dangerous food poisoning bug, staphylococci.
Thailand "Failed" 7 times for prawns contaminated with the banned cancer-causing organochlorine chlorpyrifos, and prawn cutlets with Vibrio Cholera.
“That either means that the product has not been cooked properly or contaminated water where vibrio has got in and contaminated the product after it's already been cooked.” Says Mr Kennedy
Japan "Failed" 7 times for listeria in cooked fish, mackerel and scallops.
China "Failed" 6 times for prawns with staphylococci and vibrio cholera, clams with E.coli, and oysters contaminated with listeria monocytogenes).
The potential health effects are extremely worrying, Mr Kennedy warns.
“It's especially an issue in a ready to eat product such as this because the bug lysteria can cause a woman to miscarry.”