It is a well-known fact, whether we like it or not, that every single one of our choices has a corresponding set of consequences. This extends from large life choices like whether to have children to seemingly small choices like what kind of sushi to order. What we don’t know is how big or small these consequences might be. It may therefore come as a surprise to some that by choosing a certain fish dish in a restaurant contributes to the clubbing of seal pups off the coast of Namibia, or by picking one type of California roll over another might mean that one day soon you will never be able to enjoy another snoek* braai as the entire species will have been wiped out. If indeed these facts are a surprise, you really need to get acquainted with SASSI.
SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) is an organisation dedicated to helping the consumer to make better choices in order to ensure the sustainability of the ocean.
Why is this important and how does it relate to you?
- The ocean is a resource which has indisputable value. To the majority of people reading this, i.e. you, the ocean’s main value is as a food source, a deliciously healthy, low-fat one at that. Every time you tuck into a plate of sushi, enjoy some fresh fish ‘n chips down at the harbour or savour the taste of your home-made pickled fish, you are utilising this resource.
- For many people up and down the coast of Southern Africa the ocean provides the income they need to survive. From poor fisherman on the West Coast of South Africa to larger tourist diving operations in Mozambique, if the underwater environment that supports marine life is destroyed or the fish stocks are completely killed off, these guys can say goodbye to their livelihoods.
- Finally, the natural environment has an inherent value which is hard to explain. All eco-systems operate on a fine balance. In the ocean (as on land), each species plays a unique role in the eco-system right down to the itsy-bitsy plankton. Take small bottom feeders like prawns for example, whose job description is to gobble up debris and keep the sea clean. If this bottom species is destroyed, the sea will remain dirty and all other animals and plants will suffer as a result. This could conceivably happen if the bottom feeders’ main predator was over-fished to the point of extinction. If you can appreciate the intricate role each species plays and marvel at how perfectly everything fits together, you too might find it unacceptable that the ocean is under such enormous threat from humans.
What can you do to help the situation?
In short, use your power as a consumer to make responsible seafood choices. SASSI has compiled a database of fish species which classifies each one into one of three categories. These categories are based on a ‘traffic light’ colour system.
Green: Go for it! If a species is in the green category, it is a sustainable choice. The population is strong/well-managed and fishing practises are not harmful to the environment nor other species which may be caught as a by-product. You can buy this fish/order it in a restaurant with a clean conscience.
Orange: Think twice before buying this fish. These species give reason for concern. This may be due to the small size of the population, the species biology (e.g. a slow breeding rate) and/or harmful fishing practises associated with the catch.
Red: Stop! Do not buy this species under any circumstances. The fishing of this species is either unsustainable or illegal often due to the fact that the species is under threat of extinction or fishing practises threaten other species.
To find out which species fall into which category you can do one of three things:
- Check the database using the search tool on the SASSI website (type name of fish and then click ‘search’)
- Download a mini SASSI booklet which lists the most common species next to their SASSI colour- rating (The booklet and the search bar are found on the bottom right side of the home page)
- Send a ‘fish MS’ by smsing the name of the fish to 079 499 8795 and await the reply informing you of its colour-rating (service only available in South Africa, standard rates apply)
SASSI recommends that when you order fish in a restaurant or buy it at a market/supermarket always ask 3 question:
1) What type of fish is it?
2) Where does it come from?
3) How was it farmed?
In this manner you will not only be keeping yourself informed, but also drawing attention to the issue and putting pressure on businesses to adopt a sustainable ocean ethic.
I now encourage you, armed with new knowledge, to go out and make responsible, ethical seafood choices, and share this post so others can do the same. And if you feel like eating out tonight, Dining OUT has an extensive list of SASSI approved restaurants. On the home page, under ‘Find a restaurant’, type ‘sustainable seafood’ in the ‘food type’ space and then click ‘search’.
*The status of the snoek species is currently being re-evaluated by SASSI