Looking out for SA’s sea life

Fishermen off Cape Point in the Western
Cape catching fish using handlines.
(Image: Rodger Bosch
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Tamara O’Reilly

South Africa is no less of a culprit when it comes to threatening the survival of marine species by overfishing. To curb this, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative aims to educate consumers on their choice of seafood and its impact on marine life.

With both warm and cold waters lapping our shores, South African waters are attractive to a diverse sea life but like in most places around the world, the pressure of fishing has caused severe threat to some species of fish.

The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) a partnership between the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and wildlife organisation WWF South Africa has encouraged restaurateurs to be more vigilant of suppliers’ fishing methods in order to avoid further damage to an already delicate ocean environment.

SASSI provides its members (namely restaurants, wholesalers and retailers) with a chart containing a list of South African fish that are categorised using colours to denote the fish’s conservation status. Members of SASSI discourage the promotion of species that are from overexploited or vulnerable populations and to have better choices available for their customers.

“Red Species” such as kingfish, blacktail and stonebream are by law, illegal to sell. They are listed as specially protected, restricted, or no-sale species and should never be bought or offered for sale as they are at great risk of extinction. Some fish on this list may be enjoyed at home if caught by licensed recreational anglers.

“Orange Species” are not as endangered as their red counterparts. They may be sold legally by registered commercial fishers and retailers but an increased demand for these could be detrimental to their existence.

The best options for consumers and retailers are those categorised as “Green Species”. They are recommended as the most popular choices available as they are relatively healthy and well-managed populations that can sustain current fishing pressure.

“About 76 %of the world’s fish stocks are now overexploited, meaning that we as operators, need to take the initiative by learning about what species are in trouble and encourage others to do so as well,” says Brian Singer, owner of Blowfish Restaurant in Cape Town. “As restaurant owners, we can make a huge impact by refusing to spend our money on products that are unlawful.”

Many communities in the world rely on fishing for survival, whether it’s through trade or as a primary source of food. It has been estimated that more than 200-million people around the world earn all, or part, of their income through fishing and related activities.

Although water covers 70% of the earth, the perception that the sea is full of fish is largely unfounded. Not all areas of the sea are equally productive as most fish are found in the relatively shallow water near the coastline of continents and islands.

Over fishing

When more fish are caught than can be replaced by the breeding activities of the adult fish population, over fishing occurs. According to SASSI, it is estimated that 75% of global fish stocks are either exploited at maximum levels, or overexploited.

Continued over-fishing is detrimental to everyone involved, from the fish and ecosystem, to the communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing, through to seafood retailers and the consumer.

“The solution is not to ban fishing as this will have a negative impact on the world economy, and possibly an even worse impact on the environment, but rather it is to maintain reasonable regulations whereby we can make use of resources available to us without damaging the environment,” says Jaco Barendse, seafood and technical advisor of SASSI.

Netting what’s not needed

Some fisheries are very selective and use different methods to catch only those fish which they require. Other fisheries are non-selective and may catch fish and other animals that are not intended. These are called by-catch and often result in the catching, and killing, of sea life such as dolphins, seals and albatrosses.

An alternative

“There are also alternative solutions to fishing straight from wild stock. Aquaculture is a fast growing sector in the Western Cape economy and already seafood such as mussels, oysters and abalone are successfully raised,” adds Timony Siebert, coordinator of SASSI.

Aquaculture involves the cultivation of sea life, mainly molluscs such as mussels and crustaceans such as crabs and prawns.

According to the Aquaculture Association of South Africa, the world aquaculture industry contributes about 30% to total food fish. World aquaculture production has experienced an increase of over 40% over the previous two decades, with aquaculture making up the difference between rising demand and the stagnant supplies from capture fisheries. Africa is producing approximately 6% (570 000 tonnes) of the total world catch, with South Africa contributing respectively 9% and 0.5% to Africa’s and total world catch.

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