Seafood industry glitterati gathered at the Sydney Seafood School on Thursday July 20 for the biennial Sydney Fish Market Seafood Excellence Awards. The handful of much coveted awards recognise notable achievement in areas of workplace practice, restaurant service and quality of food.
Esteemed guests, the Honourable Melinda Pavey MP and the Honourable Niall Blair MLC, helped hand out the awards, while celebrity chef, ‘Fast Ed’ Halmagyi performed as Master of Ceremonies.
The 140 odd guests were treated to a menu of delicacies created by The Caterer Sydney, and soothed by the spatial sounds and mellifluous vocals of jazz four-piece The Skylarks.
The awards have been running since 1996, and according to Managing Director of SFM Bryan Kepper,
“There has been a big change in the industry over that period in terms of the way fisheries are managed. For instance…Australia’s moved to a very well regulated harvesting regime.”
This means that the waterways are not overfished and there is limited wastage at the retail end. Within the volume of fish caught is an extraordinary range of species – up to 500 different varieties might be sold at market over the course of a year.
Kepper, who has been in the industry for 40 years, attributes the range of offerings to the morphing demographics of fishers and retailers. In the early days, fishing was done by migrant Italian families while Greek immigrants mostly handled retail. Over the years both areas have seen a strong Asian influence. Each nationality has a predilection for particular seafoods, and Kepper thinks “it’s fantastic because it means we can capitalise on the diversity of product we catch in Australia.”
It’s not just demographics that has changed, but an overall attitude to conservation, due diligence and pride. That’s why the Awards are so important, says Kepper:
“Largely the fishing and merchant community are sort of hidden from the public, and we see [the Awards] as an opportunity to recognise the excellence that these people exhibit in the way they run their business.”
Categories include, among others,  Excellence in Environmental Practice; Best Supplier (NSW & Overseas); Best Seafood Retailer in NSW; Best Seafood Restaurant; Best Fish ’n’ Chips; and the ‘Gold Logie’ – Star Of The Sea award for outstanding contribution to the industry.
This year, a new award was introduced for Safety, not only recognising but encouraging safe work practice.
“It’s about caring about the fisherman,” explains Kepper. “When they’re out at sea,  they’re on their own, many of them, and it’s a dangerous occupation.”
Excellence In Environmental Practice is another award that aims to encourage positive behaviour. The Pyrmont Trawl Fleet was one of the finalists. Earlier this year, they collaborated with Ultimo Public School to coordinate a Clean Up Australia project. Kepper sees a heightened respect for sustainability among all SFM businesses; it is part of the SFM brand and vital to survival of the industry.
“When you think about it, the fishermen who are harvesting are actually stewards of the sea, because if that resource is destroyed they don’t have a future…and they get very passionate about it!” says Kepper.
Protecting and enhancing the waters has long been one of the pillars of SFM. They formed the not-for-profit environmental group, Oceanwatch Australia in the 80s to address concerns about increasing pollution in and around waterways.
“Its up to everyone to play their part. Some of the biggest threats are not being managed well and that’s things like urban run off, pollution, draining swamps…” explains Kepper. Mangroves and swamps around foreshores are being reclaimed for urban and recreational development, to the detriment of the natural habitat. “Swamps are actually the breeding grounds and they’re also the filtering mechanism for rivers as they run into the sea.”
While, on the one hand, Kepper admits our waters are “probably the best they’ve been for a long time,” he gravely reports that “plastic in the ocean is something that’s quite scary.”
Yet he is hopeful and proactive, especially with the ensuing upgrade of the SFM.
“Even with the planning for the new market we’ve said that it’s gotta be state of the art and sustainable.”

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