Michael Randall, Leader
The Southern Shark Industry Alliance executive officer petitioned the national Fish Names Committee to restrict the use of “flake” to just two species of gummy shark.
And it listened, changing the industry standard last month.
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Previously, “flake” was flying out of deep-fryers as any number of shark species, such as bronze whaler, copper shark black tip shark or lemon shark — the “fake flake”, as Mr Ciconte calls it.
But the Australian Fish Names Standard now categorises flake as one of two species, mustelus antarcticus (gummy shark) and mustelus lenticulatus (gummy shark or “rig” in New Zealand).
And while there are no present sanctions for those who do not adhere to the guideline, Mr Ciconte and the Fish Names Committee expect fish-and-chip shops to fall into line.
And that’s a win for consumers.
“It’s a ripper, we’re pumped, we love it,” Mr Ciconte said of the decision.
“You have debate in the industry, ‘my local fish-and-chip shop is better than yours’. So I decided to go and try some of these shops.
“Some are magnificent and some are just rubbish. Even my old man was upset with it. He’s a strong Catholic who goes to the fish-and-chip shop every Friday night.
“His local fish-and-chip shop changed hands and they changed the fish they offered, went to the cheaper stuff and still called it flake. He was so angry.
GETTING WHAT YOU PAY FOR
“This change is two years in the making, but we’ve found a way to make it hard for the consumer to be deceived.”
The decision has been called a “game-changer” for the industry and consumers.
Mr Ciconte, a Brighton businessman who has ties to Greater Dandenong, said you only had to look in a dictionary to find a definition for flake.
“If I pulled out a dictionary it says it in there that the word flake is described as the meat of the gummy shark,” he said.
“A lot of people say, ‘oh, but it’s battered fish, who knows the difference?’ But everyone knows the difference between a good bit of fish and one that’s not so good.”
He said consumers would finally “get what they paid for”.
“He’s (the consumer) going to get a decent piece of fish, he’s getting what he pays for,” he said.
“When the substitute for gummy was being sold to him, the guy who sold it probably paid two or three dollars less than what he would have for a real piece of gummy shark.
“You’re getting what you think you’re paying for now.”
He said the name change would also affect supermarkets, who would have to look to buy local if they wanted to sell flake.
NEEDING SUPERMARKET SUPPORT NOW
“The big one is the supermarkets, they will have to support the local industry and buy the more expensive product and support the local fishing industry, rather than importing,” Mr Ciconte said.
“Local fishermen, who have been struggling for years, will get a boost because the demand for their products will be strengthened.”
Fish Names Committee chairman Roy Palmer, a former fish-and-chip shop owner, said gummy shark was “the pinnacle of flake” and called the decision a “game-changer” for the industry and consumers.
“A lot of people won’t be happy, but at the end of the day, it’s about trying to create the right scenario for the consumers and the industry,” Mr Palmer said.
“In a year’s time, everyone will go, ‘oh yeah, that was a good decision’, but at the moment a lot of people will be confused.
“We ask for people’s patience while the information gets out to everyone.”
Local fish-and-chip shop owners backed the move.
Jin Findikakis, owner of Flakey Jakes Narre Warren for the past 20 years, said he wouldn’t dream of selling anything else but gummy shark as flake.
“I’m all for the reclassification of flake,” Mr Finikakis said. “I have always sold gummy shark flakes and I don’t feel the need to tell customers, unless they ask.
“It’s all about quality and how we used to have it years ago, when I was a kid.
“I hate the thought of dodgy owners misleading their customers. Flake is gummy shark and that’s how it used to be in the ’40s and ’50s.
“What needs to happen in our industry is we need to make known what the customer is getting, like any other product.”
Sam Bai, owner of Flounders Fish and Chips in Cranbourne West, sells only gummy shark as flake, realising his customers will know the difference if he serves an inferior species.
And Noble Park North-based Blue Wave Fish and Chips owner Robert Rowlands welcomed the move, saying that many in the industry passed off different species of shark as flake.
Spiros Argyros has backed the changes to flake classification.
Wholesaler Spiro Argyros, from S and J Seafood Supply at the Melbourne Seafood Centre, West Melbourne, said the shark industry had “taken a hit” due to cheap imports and the changes would help.
“Let’s hope they all fall into line and follow the new industry standard and that will mean the consumers will have to get a better product now,” Mr Argyros said.
Fish Names Committee secretary Alan Snow said the group was taking a two-pronged approach to ensure fish and chip shops followed the standard.
“We’ll be putting press releases out and letting people know through our channels what has happened and what the next steps are,” Mr Snow said.
“There’s no such thing as a fish-and-chip shop association.
“So we have to be patient and give it time for the owners and the public to get used to it.”
—with Brittany Shanahan, Melissa Townsend and Cherry Prior