Travelling Fish

Reporter: Jonathan Creek

The Southern Cross, the word "Australian" -- it's designed to look like a dinky-di Aussie product. Don't be fooled.

The Whiting in the package is caught locally but it has made a long, arduous, round-about journey from the ocean to the supermarket freezer.

Seafood lover, Moya Kennedy, was shocked to discover she had, inadvertently, bought the country's most well travelled fish. "It didn't seem to be true that something could be grown in Lakes Entrance, is shipped to Thailand, and shipped back again and they said 'Yes, that is what happens", Moya said.

Caught in Lakes Entrance, Victoria, the whiting is sent more than 7,000 kilometres away -- via sea -- to Bangkok, Thailand for processing and packaging. From there it's re-imported -- a round trip of 15,000 kilometers.

Six months pass from the time the fish is caught to the time it's sold. "I think the practice of sending things off shore altogether is dreadful, we should be trying to produce products in Australia and keep it in Australia", Moya said.

Malcolm McLaughlin is the Managing Director of McLaughlin and Consolidated Fisherman, the company behind the whiting and he makes no apologies for using cheap Asian labour. "The cost of a filleter here is about $50 an hour by the time you put on all your on costs. In Thailand they work for about $3 an hour, now there's a big difference in that and a man will produce a kilo, kilo-and-a-half of these small fish in an hour, work it out yourself", Malcolm said.

A 450 gram packet retails in Woolworth's stores for just under $11. If processed here, you could expect to pay double. "Freight to Thailand we can get it there and back for the same price as I can get fish from Tasmania or fish to Queensland, so our freight's far, far more expensive too, just on land here", Malcolm said.

In the Victorian town of Lakes Entrance, fishing is a way of life. Trawlers come in and out of this port hundreds of times each day and much of the seafood they bring back is for the local market.

And it's here seasoned fishermen want their catch packed and processed. "It's just a shame that we can't find somewhere in Australia to process it cheap enough", said fisherman Wayne Cheers.

Wayne has been fishing the waters most of his life - he's sad but realistic about the situation. " It's snapped frozen here, it's pulled down as quick as it can be, sent over there, they look after it we hope pretty well and we try to get it back here to the consumers", Wayne said.

"It's almost incomprehensible that it costs 22 cents a kilo to send to Thailand, 24 cents a kilo to send to Tasmania, I mean it's ridiculous", said head of the Lakes Entrance Fisherman's co-op, Dale Sumner.

Dale wants the whiting to stay put and he hopes new technology will keep the labour intensive fish local. "What we're hoping to do is find a machine that can provide us with a sufficient yield on the filleted product and obviously that'll mean new jobs into the co op in Lakes Entrance", Dale said.

For his part, Malcolm McLaughlin, denies sending the fish on an international excursion is simply a ploy to line his pockets. "This is a product everyone can eat because it's affordable, if we did it here, it wouldn't be affordable to the majority of people", he said.