It's not news to hear that our oceans are in trouble. Globally, it is estimated that 85 percent of the world's fisheries are either overexploited or in full use. Locally, both our inshore and offshore seas are in trouble from overfishing, not to mention other challenges such as pollution that put strain on the fish populations.
Most of us agree that something should be done to solve the problem, but when it comes to taking responsibility or getting involved, we prefer to take a step back. Yet, it seems that some of us have been paying attention if recent consumer allegations against various Fruit & Veg City franchises are anything to go by.
A member of the public, Cameron Johnston, recently posted a picture on Facebook of a fish for sale, claiming that it was the endangered Garrick or Leervis, which has been placed on the SASSI red list. The picture was shared by 234 people at the time this story was published.
Another consumer, Adrian Barichievy, posted on MyNews24 claiming that a number of complaints had been made on the message boards of popular fishing forum Sealine.co.za against Fruit & Veg City for the alleged sale of endangered fish species.
Late yesterday, the retail giant responded to these allegations on its Facebook page saying it was communicating strict instructions to all of its stores to be vigilant in the buying of seafood. It also promised that for every time one of its customers found an endangered fish on sale in its stores it would donate R5000 to seafood awareness initiative, SASSI.
The positive outcome of this criticism highlights the growing awareness among consumers of their power to influence what is sold to them.
John Duncan, Manager of Seafood Market Transformation and Sustainable Fisheries Program at WWF in South Africa, also noted this, saying that we often forget that consumer demand is what influences suppliers.
"The more consumers become aware of the challenges and the more they start to demand sustainable seafood options (i.e. SASSI Green-listed seafood) from the retailers and the fisheries that supply these retailers, the more retailers fisheries are being forced to adopt responsible practices and implementing positive changes on the water."
Enter the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, known as SASSI. Supported by WWF SA, SASSI aims to educate the seafood supply chain to reduce overfishing.
"When fisheries start to be rewarded by the market for responsible behaviour, the easier it is for them to implement the necessary changes," says Duncan.
SASSI has created three lists:
A green list, indicating fish that are not endangered;
An orange list, indicating fish that can be legally be sold, but which are under pressure from overfishing or bad fishing practices;
A red list, indicating fish that are classified as endangered and which are illegal to fish and sell in South Africa.
SASSI has also made it easy to access this information so that you can make informed decisions when you're out shopping or eating at a restaurant. By sending an SMS to its FishMS line (0794998795) with the name of the fish you will receive an instant message back telling you whether the species is green, orange or red-listed. You can also visit its mobisite while you're on the go if you want to see the list yourself: www.wwfsassi.mobi.
Globally, it is estimated that 85 percent of the world's fisheries are being fully exploited and in some areas, over exploited. The good news is that where proper management measures are implemented, the ocean is starting to show signs of recovery.
The initiative is also working alongside big retailers to help them develop sustainable seafood policies and strategies to ensure that their procurement processes support those in the industry who are operating responsibly and prevent unsustainable seafood from entering their supply chains.
Of the Fruit & Veg City consumer allegations, Duncan says that SASSI strongly encourages the group to develop a strategic approach to ensuring that its seafood is legal and sustainably sourced.
"From the high-level of interest that these incidents have garnered in the public space, it seems clear that South African consumers will no longer accept unsustainable seafood from their seafood suppliers."