Making sustainable seafood choices

24 November 2008

The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has expanded its awareness programmes to restaurants, retailers and wholesalers, encouraging them to help conserve local fish species by promoting fish that are plentiful in supply.

The initiative, which has the support of the local branch of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), aims to shift demand for seafood from over-exploited species – such as kingklip, kabeljou, and Cape salmon – to more sustainable species.

“There is a global concern about the serial depletion of the world’s oceans, and SASSI joins a growing movement of similar awareness campaigns that promote more responsible seafood choices to the consumer,” SASSI project coordinator Timony Siebert told SAinfo this week.

Better business sense

According to Siebert, many seafood businesses can see the changes in the seafood industry and realise that it is better for them to shift to selling seafood species that come from healthier stocks and will thus be better available into the future.

“It’s more than being environmentally ethical,” she said. “It makes business sense.”

Siebert added that the initiative had recently developed a retail charter that allows larger retailers to get involved. So far, Pick n Pay, Woolworths and Spar are working with SASSI on improving their seafood procurement.

Restaurant buy-in ‘crucial’

Restaurants are also requesting more sustainable options from their suppliers, which influences all other supply points along the seafood chain, helping to build a sustainable seafood culture “from hook to plate”.

Siebert said that restaurant buy-in was crucial to helping shift demand away from over-exploited species, while engaging chefs was equally important.

“As setters of food trends, hospitality can play a major role in creating greater consumer demand for more sustainable seafood,” she said.

By offering and serving customers ocean-friendly seafood dishes, Siebert said the industry would not only raise awareness of sustainability issues, but also encourage an appreciation of alternative types of seafood that are just as tasty as traditional but over-fished varieties.

SASSI has already convinced restaurant chains like Spur and John Dory to participate, and is in discussions with more potential participants.

Fish SMS

According to Siebert, use of SASSI’s Fish SMS service has also been steadily growing since it was launched in November 2006.

Through the service, users can SMS the name of a fish to 079 499 8795, and the service will reply to say whether the fish is in plentiful supply, endangered or illegal to buy.

SASSI categorises seafood into “green light”, “orange light” and “red light” species.

“Green light” species, such as hake and yellowtail, have well-managed populations; “orange light” species, such as kingklip and kabeljou, are prone to over-fishing; and “red light” species, such as galjoen and white stumpnose, are protected and cannot be legally sold.

SASSI is busy compiling a fish substitue list, which they will post on their website when completed.

To date, Siebert said the number of users of the service had risen to over 43 000, with marked user “spikes” over lunch and dinner time and on Wednesdays and weekends.

“This is very encouraging for us, as we know that people are asking questions and at the very least are considering the implications of their choices when eating out.”

SAinfo reporter

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