Few people can honestly say that they are not aware of the sorry state of the world’s seas. Far from being bottomless resources, our oceans have been so overfished that seafood populations are declining dangerously, with many species hovering on the brink of extinction.

[custom_frame_center shadow=”on”]West Coast Rock Lobster[/custom_frame_center]

Do you know what you are eating?

It may come as a surprise to some people that by choosing a certain fish dish in a restaurant they are contributing to the clubbing of seal cubs off the coast of Namibia, or that by opting for local prawns they are supporting an eco-unfriendly fishing practice.

Nevertheless, the world’s human population grows and grows, highlighting the need for increased food stocks, so the fishing industry continues to harvest the seas of all their life. Indeed, the future of many threatened marine ecosystems is far from rosy. So it’s good to know that people involved in the seafood industry are realising that changing the way they conduct business can promote the long-term viability of their industry.

SASSI is born to save the seas

In 2004, WWF South Africa and a number of ecological agencies collaborated to form the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). Its aim? To help the consumer make better choices about seafood in order to ensure the sustainability of our seas.

What SASSI does

Developing a sustainable seafood industry requires a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of fishing, from the fisherman’s hook to the consumer. For many people around the coast of southern Africa, the ocean provides the income they need to survive. If the underwater environment that supports marine life is destroyed or the fish stocks are completely killed off, these people, from the poor fishermen on the West Coast of South Africa to the larger tourist diving operations in Mozambique, can say goodbye to their livelihoods.

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West Coast Rock Lobster

This popular delicacy was once plentiful and loved by diners. Now over-exploitation and rampant poaching threaten its numbers. What should you do when it’s listed on a restaurant menu? You’ll find the status of it and other local fish seafood species in the SASSI Consumer Seafood Pocket Guide (inset below).[/message]
To address the problem, SASSI set up the WWF Sustainable Fisheries Programme. The programme is designed to inform consumers about the South African fish that is available in restaurants – is it green (‘best choice’ most sustainable species from the healthiest and best-managed populations), orange (‘think twice’ species that may be threatened by overfishing or are farmed in a way that is harmful to the environment) or red (‘don’t buy’ species to avoid because they are unsustainable or are illegal to sell in South Africa)?

Is the initiative working? Well, the public is certainly paying attention. One example of its success is hottentot, which has been moved from the ‘orange’ to the healthy ‘green’ list, while ever-popular hake is still a worrying ‘orange’ (although, it must be said, a long-term recovery plan for the hake fishery has seen numbers improving). It’s not all plain sailing – the South African West Coast rock lobster has dropped from the ‘green’ list to the ‘orange’ list because of over-exploitation and rampant poaching. Plans are being made to improve the numbers of this species by 35 percent.

[custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]SASSI guide[/custom_frame_right]

What can you do?

Before tucking into your favourite seafood at your local restaurant, find out how sustainable it is by checking its status on the SASSI consumer seafood pocket guide – download it at www.wwfsassi.co.za/pocketguide.pdf – or sms the name of the fish to 0794998795 and you’ll get an immediate message back telling you to ‘tuck in, think twice or avoid completely’. And if a fish on the menu flashes red warning lights, speak to the manager. You’ll find more information about SASSI and the latest fishy updates at http://www.wwfsassi.co.za/?m=1 or by e-mailing sassi@wwf.org.za


Acknowledgements & Photo credits

  1. Photo of West Coast Rock Lobster By Peter Southwood (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  2. SASSI Guide photo courtesy of SASSI / wwwfsassi.co.za