Founded in 2004, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has created a way for consumers, retailers and wholesalers to take a stand in support of awareness in South Africa. Years of over-fishing and poor management have caused the populations of many fish species to drop to dangerously low levels.
76% of the world’s fish stocks are now overexploited, meaning that restaurants and traders of all kinds need to take the control of the situation by learning about which species are in trouble and encourage others to do so as well.
Restaurants in Cape Town are taking part in the SASSI Restaurant and Retailer Participation Scheme. By joining the scheme, they will voluntarily agrees to ensure that they only buy fish from legal sources and never trade in species that are illegal to sell (as stipulated on the SASSI ‘red-list’).
The restaurants also endeavour to not promote species that are from overexploited or vulnerable populations and always have better choices available for their customers – fish and seafood from relatively well managed and healthy populations.
The initiative also educates buyers of the methods used to catch fish and their associated impacts. By being discerning buyers, restaurants and retailers can use their consumer buying power to try to encourage more responsible fishing practice further along the chain of custody. “As restaurant owners, we can make a huge impact by refusing to spend our money on products that are unlawful,” comments Brian Singer, owner of the Blowfish Restaurant. “The idea at Blowfish Restaurant is to create good food with a clear conscience.”
The fishery business is a large one the world over, with upward of 200 million people earning all or part of their income through fishing and related activities. “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,” adds Jaco Barendse, Seafood and Technical Advisor of SASSI.
SASSI provides its members with a list of South African fish that are categorised according to their conservation status on a colour-coded chart. Red for those species that are protected such as Kingfish, Garrick, Galjoen and Blacktail, through to green for those species, like Dorado, Snoek, Bluefish and Yellowtail, that are able to cope with commercial fishing demands. These indicators are a good way for restaurants to avoid causing damage to an already delicate and endangered environment: the ocean.
“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.
Of all the fish stock world-wide, only 3% are under-exploited, states the FAO Report of 2005. Of these, 52% are fully exploited while 45% are either moderately exploited or on the edge of severe depletion. If we are not proactive in the protection of our oceans, we will soon be faced with an ocean desert of devastating proportions.