A sustainable fish and chip shop is a relatively new idea and Swampdog on Vulture Street is leading the way. Chef and fish enthusiast Richard Webb runs the shop with his sons, Luke and Sam.
After selling his award-winning Auchenflower restaurant, Sprout, a fish focused business was an obvious choice for Richard. “I like fish on lots of levels that aren’t just about food,” he says. Outside of work, Richard describes himself as a crazy fly fisherman and spends a week each year fishing for trout in the wilds of Tasmania. It is a passion first encouraged by his grandfather.
“I went fishing with him when I was a kid, as kids do. When my grandfather passed away … I inherited all his fishing tackle. I think when I was about seven or eight years old we went on a holiday to Bribie, and I took all his fishing gear and I can remember the first whiting I caught,” says Richard. He has been hooked ever since.
While overfishing is a major issue facing the seafood industry, Richard believes carbon is an even bigger problem —not only because of climate change. “Since the industrial revolution, a third of our carbon has gone into the ocean. That makes the ocean more and more acidic … it means that crustaceans, molluscs, everything can’t form a shell because of the pH of the water … we’re talking about killing the food
that the whales and everything else eats,” says Richard.
An estimated two million tonnes of salmon is flown to Brisbane every year. Richard’s goal is to serve fish with a significantly lower carbon footprint. “I like salmon, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not something I never eat … but make it a special occasion fish, don’t make it chicken. It’s a staple now, that we’re air freighting here. That could be barramundi or it could be mullet.”
He says at present our local seafood is vastly underutilised and undervalued. “There are so many good fish to eat … we all think we know fish; even for me, I’ve spent my whole life around fish and I’ve discovered at least four new species of good eating fish since I’ve been in this shop. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible,” says Richard. He encourages people to be more open-minded about the fish they will eat, and to look to the bottom of the food chain.
“It costs the environment a lot to make a big fish … every time you eat one kilo of tuna you could have eaten 10 kilos of sardines. Sardines are like rabbits. We’re taking 700 million tonnes of sardines every year and they’re not showing any signs of depletion … squid’s another one, squid’s actually on the up and up, ” says Richard.
Richard also believes people should cultivate a good relationship with their fishmonger and ask lots of questions about what is and is not sustainable. “Even if he doesn’t know the answers, if everyone asks, he’ll find out,” says Richard.
Words by Leah Carri | Images by Stayc Connolly