1. How does SASSI fit into WWF South Africa?
The WWF Marine Programme is comprised of three keystone initiatives, namely ‘Integrated Ocean Use’, ‘Seafood Market Transformation’ and ‘Seafood Consumer Outreach’, the latter two of which are designed to work holistically through the seafood supply chain, forming the Sustainable Fisheries Programme. SASSI is the component of the Sustainable Fisheries Programme which is used to communicate all the work undertaken by the programme, from the training of fishermen, to working with retailers to better their procurement practices, to utilising consumers as a market incentive for better and more sustainable fishing practises.
2. What is the main purpose of the SASSI list?
The main objective of the SASSI list is to increase the awareness of seafood consumers around different species of fish, to discourage them from choosing illegal species, and to guide them towards more ocean-friendly choices when faced with a selection of different species.
3. What do the SASSI colour categories mean?
The red group includes unsustainable species as well as those that are illegal to sell in South Africa. Never buy these!ORANGE:
This group includes species that have associated reasons for concern. Think again before choosing any of these species.GREEN:
This is the best choice! Choose from this group as it contains the best managed, most sustainable choices available to consumers.
4. Can I eat orange fish without feeling guilty?
Species included in the orange list have associated environmental reasons for concern. Rather than putting more pressure on these species, we encourage you to choose a more sustainable option from the green list, which contains the best managed and most sustainable choices available.
5. What is an eco-label?
An eco-label on a product provides surety to the consumer that the product has been produced in accordance with certain environmental standards. An eco-label for fisheries products is expected to pursue two objectives: sustainable resources and a sustainable ecosystem, awarded through an impartial third party.
6. What is the MSC?
The MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) is an international non-governmental organisation that promotes sustainability in fisheries through a certification and eco-labelling programme. Products displaying the MSC eco-label are traceable back through the seafood supply chain to the sustainable fishery that caught it.
7. Why the need for both SASSI and the MSC?
SASSI and the MSC complement each other’s activities. SASSI aims to raise consumer awareness of the state of the world’s oceans and empower seafood consumers with the knowledge and tools to make ocean friendly choices by providing general information via the SASSI list. The only assurance a consumer has that a particular product comes from a sustainable source is to ensure that every link in the supply chain is audited against a rigorous standard. To meet this need, WWF, in partnership with Unilever, developed the MSC standard for wild capture fisheries. This eco-label is, at present, the only credible eco-label for wild capture fisheries. Because SASSI supports the MSC as the leading marine eco-label, MSC-labelled products are automatically placed on the SASSI green list. Today, the MSC is an independent organisation, but both WWF and the MSC share the overall goal to providing a solution to the problem of over-fishing.
8. Why does WWF support the MSC above other eco-labels?
Globally, there are a number of eco-labels for wild-capture fisheries. WWF commissioned an independent survey of the leading eco-labels. Against the United Nations FAO guidelines and WWF criteria, the MSC scored 96% compliance and the next closest was 65%. The MSC is an evolving programme that strives to address all stakeholder concerns and continuously improve its standard.
9. Why is hake on the Green List?
The South African Hake trawl fishery is MSC-certified; as a result, all hake derived from this fishery bears the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo. All MSC-certified species are automatically placed on SASSI’s green list.
The hake trawl fishery has been MSC certified since 2005, including successful re-certification in 2010. The MSC is an international, non-governmental organisation that promotes sustainability in wild-capture fisheries, by means of a certification and eco-labelling program. Products displaying the MSC eco-label are traceable back through the seafood supply chain to the ‘well managed and sustainable fishery’ that caught it (for more information on the MSC, visit their website at www.msc.org).
Significant progress has been made in the management of the hake resource as a result of MSC certification; a hake recovery plan was implemented as a condition of MSC certification and subsequently the hake TAC was reduced; significant progress was made to split the two hake species and model their populations separately; the trawl fishery has also implemented precautionary catch limits for two key offshore bycatch species, namely Monk and Kingklip, and a ‘move on’ rule for Snoek; good progress has been made to address the understanding of vulnerable bycatch such as seabirds in the South African hake trawl, limited progress has been made towards addressing the damage to benthic habitats caused by the trawl sector through research undertaken to evaluate the ecosystem impacts of demersal fishing as well as an initiative by the hake trawl industry to ‘freeze’ their trawl footprint to areas fished historically with a commitment that an environmental impact assessment be conducted should the fishery wish to ‘break new ground’.
10. Does fish farming have any environmental concerns?
Fish farming can have some environmental concerns including:
- Uncontrolled discharge of waste directly into the surrounding environment which is of particular concern for at-sea cages and on land flow through systems with no filtration.
- The spread of disease from farmed fish to wild populations. Farmed animals are much more susceptible to disease than wild fish are due to stress related to high stocking densities, feed, water quality, water temperature etc. as they cannot then move from the unfavourable situation as they would in the wild.
- The risk of farmed fish escaping into the wild and either spreading disease or diluting the wild gene pool as farmed fish are usually bred on the farm where selective breeding taking place.
- The reliance on wild capture fish and other protein sources such as soy and palm oil for feed. All three of these protein sources having sustainability implications and therefore it is important that they are sourced sustainably for feed.
However, if there is effective management on the farm and sustainable sources of protein are used for feed, the effect on the environment can be lessened and aquaculture can be used as a tool to decrease the fishing pressure on wild stocks.
11. How best can I, as a consumer, make a difference?
Some fishing and farming methods pose more harm to the environment than others. Therefore, every consumer should ask more questions of their restaurants and retailers.
- What is it?
- Where is it from?
- How was it caught or farmed?
It is every consumer’s right to know what is on their plate; demand the above information from your restaurant and retailer in order to make a more sustainable choice. Research indicates that positive changes at sea have predominantly resulted from consumer queries. Moral of the story….ask more questions about your seafood!
12. Why do some species occur in all three colour categories?
The species included on the list have been assessed by considering the stock status, the environmental effects of fishing and the management in place to reduce these effects or maintain the stock at healthy levels. Some species are caught by a number of fisheries or from different parts of the world because each method or area has different concerns they could be ranked differently depending on those concerns.
13. Are all illegal species unsustainable?
Many species are listed by the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 as specially protected or recreational “no sale” species, meaning that they are illegal to sell in South Africa. This is not to say that they are unsustainable but, because of their vulnerable life history characteristics (late maturing, slow growing etc.), these species would not be able to handle commercial pressure on top of the already existing recreational pressure. Consumers should never buy these species and report any illegal sale to the designated government task force (082 771 8890
14. What are “recreational species”?
Recreational species are those fish species that can be caught by fishermen with a recreational permit. This means that these fishermen are allowed to catch these fish species for recreational pleasure and personal consumption, but it is illegal for them to sell their catch. Recreational species are illegal to sell in South Africa according to the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998. Recreational rules as well as the location of Marine Protected Areas can be found on our mobi site (www.wwfsassi.mobi).
15. Does the SASSI list result in fisherman losing their jobs?
Our goal is to ensure that fisherman stay in business forever by ensuring fish stocks are fished sustainably. Remember that it is unsustainable fishing practices that threaten global food and job security for those dependent on those resources. There is a component of the fishing industry that fishes very responsibly; SASSI is about creating a market advantage for those individuals and in doing so create an incentive for others to fish responsibly. SASSI does not advocate the exclusion of seafood from our diet, but rather encourages consumers to make informed choices. The new list outlines the relative sustainability of seafood; orange is better than red, and green is better than orange.
16. Why can SASSI partners sell orange-listed species?
We have chosen to partner with key retailers to work on the challenges they face with regards to sustainable seafood as we believe this is the most powerful way to drive significant change at sea. However, given the various challenges facing retailers with respect to sourcing sustainable seafood, changing the way they conduct their business is not something that will happen overnight. But our retail partners are committed to addressing issues of seafood sustainability and contributing to the recovery of our overexploited marine resources, not just in the short-term but more importantly in the long-term. We would much rather work with retailers that are not only interested in green-washing their businesses, but are interested in driving meaningful and sustained change at sea to address the challenges faced by overfishing.
Orange listed species are not illegal to sell and may be sold by registered commercial fishermen and retailers. Although SASSI advises consumers to think twice before buying these species because of the environmental concerns associated with these species, we recognise that there are significant financial and livelihood implications associated with removing these species from retailers’ shelves. As part of their commitment to sustainability, all of our participating SASSI retailers and restaurants have committed to providing consumers with adequate information about their seafood choices (including information on the species SASSI status) and in so doing, they are enabling consumers to make informed decisions about the sustainability of their seafood. At the same time, participating retailers have committed to never selling Red-listed species (even if they are legal to sell) and also undergo regular sustainability assessments which look at the range of seafood products sold, both Orange and Green-listed species, to ensure that all seafood sold meets their sustainability requirements.
Ultimately, it is up to the consumer to make the choice of which seafood they would like to be eating, although retailers and restaurants have an important role to play in educating consumers about their seafood choices, they also need to respond to what the market is demanding. SASSI encourages consumers to choose Green-listed species and as the demand for these species increases, so retailers and restaurants will be able to respond by increasing the number of Green-listed species that they have available.
17. Does SASSI really make any difference, or are marine stocks already so depleted that all it does is make consumers feel better?
There are a number of ‘good news’ stories which have come to light since the revision of the SASSI list. For example, Red Roman, a much-loved and sought after linefish species, is a member of the seabream family and is endemic to Southern Africa. Many spawning stocks have been severely depleted as a result of excessive fishing pressure, with one exploited spawning stock off Port Elizabeth showing a severe decline to 31% of its unexploited pristine population. Roman are highly resident, reef-associated species with a relatively narrow distribution from Namibia to the Eastern Cape. They exhibit life history characteristics such as slow growth (i.e. a 40cm fish could be as old as 40 years), late sexual maturity and protogyny (which means that they change sex from female to male as they mature), all of which makes them incredibly vulnerable to overfishing. Stocks are in urgent need of rebuilding as they have almost disappeared in some areas such as False Bay. There is however evidence of stock recovery of this species within Marine Protected Areas along the coast; research has shown a 90% increase in catches of Red Roman within the Goukamma MPA which was declared five years ago. The exclusion of fishing boats from Goukamma has had an overall beneficial effect, not only by conserving an - albeit small - proportion of the ecosystem representative of the South African warm temperate coast, but also by sustaining the fishery. Although much remains to be done to get the Red Roman stock back to its former glory, this still indicates the tremendous value of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in rebuilding the breeding stock of important over-exploited linefish species.
It should however be kept in mind that change is incremental and will most likely be qualitative, not quantitative, within the few years following the launch of the SASSI list. As an indication of the change SASSI has stimulated within the consciousness of the general consumer, a select few individual consumers have moved beyond the general call to action that SASSI advocates and have taken SASSI’s message to a new level of activism. Due to the almost weekly determined onslaught by these consumers on top management of prominent South African retailers, significant changes have been catalysed; for example, one of the biggest retailers in the country has recently committed to not procuring overexploited imported linefish species. These individuals continue to stubbornly challenge these retailers to consider the high risks associated with greenwashing their businesses whilst encouraging them to urgently address issues of seafood sustainability. These consumers are driving significant change through their active determination to contribute to the recovery of our overexploited marine resources. Furthermore, they fully recognise the role of consumer activism and informed buying as a strong means of catalysing positive change through the seafood industry.