16 years of WWF-SASSI

The high strung year of 2020 commemorates the 16 year journey of the WWF Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) programme, launched in 2004. You could call it our sweet 16 celebration. The idea of turning 16 should be an exciting chapter for many. Similarly this is a turning point for SASSI as we sail into a new chapter in forging ahead with many new and exciting additions to the original working model.

16 years ago, seafood sustainability was not a conscious consideration for South African consumers, seafood suppliers or even conservation practitioners. Fishermen and fisheries managers were concerned about the continuity of seafood supply but many broader sustainability concerns such as the conservation status of individual species, fisheries impacts on marine ecosystems and poor management of bycatch were neglected. No-sale species and threatened species were openly sold at seafood counters and consumers had no information to guide seafood choices. Retailers had few resources to understand seafood legalities, identify potential sustainability concerns or guide procurement. Over the last 16 years, SASSI has transformed this situation and has become a popular household name across SA. This was achieved by collating and building knowledge about seafood species, consumers, markets and fisheries impacts, and strategically engaging these consumers and the seafood industry.

The troubling state of our oceans, climate change, growing populations and consequential food security concerns plague our planet necessitating immediate behaviour change. The SASSI programme is one such example that can actively assist in the behaviour change process with the shift from awareness into action. Here are some highlights and key findings from the past 16 years that can be summarised as follows:

  • SASSI has been a successful example of the only WWF SA consumer facing programme to date which has captured and held the attention of the South African public, and fundamentally shifted attitudes towards understanding the complex issue of seafood sustainability.
  • SASSI has demonstrated that there is a (targeted) group of growing consumers that are willing to use their purchasing power and consumer voice to actively drive the required changes to bring about a sustainable future.
  • SASSI has been highly successful in driving meaningful change through the seafood supply chain
  • Consumers – the most recent surveys (2017) indicate that 80% of the target market is aware of SASSI, and 90% of these respondents claim that the SASSI tools have influenced their decision-making.
  • Retailers – SASSI engages with five (PnP, Woolworths, Spar, Checkers) of the six major retailers in South Africa
  • More than 20 companies and close to 1000 individuals have undergone SASSI training, with key restaurant chains such as John Dory’s and Ocean Basket using SASSI materials in their daily business practices and in-house staff training.
  • Fisheries – 147 species have been assessed by SASSI
  • SASSI has catalysed and/or initiated research that has significantly improved our understanding of the market dynamics of locally and internationally traded seafood products. A minimum of 16 academic papers relating to SASSI and the MSC in the South African context have been published to date.
  • SASSI is widely reported on and has now become entrenched in media, on both digital and traditional print platforms. The programme has since 4 years re-launched ourselves official on social media platforms that are now seeing consistent growth in following and engagement. The programme has also been reported on in the media to an AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) worth more than 100 million rand over the last 16 years.
  • More than 2 million pocket cards and 2000 posters have been distributed to date.
  • There are a growing number of educational partners (30), chefs (close to 50) and lifestyle ambassadors (close to 20) who work with SASSI to spread awareness around seafood sustainability issues on a national scale.

SASSI has undergone three key phases in its history. These can be are summarised as (1) building relationships and partnerships, (2) consolidating, and (3) leveraging (or activating). The SASSI team has over the years developed a successful theory of change model and have outlined the key elements in catalysing change across the seafood chain. The continued sustainable seafood work that WWF-SASSI drives will continue to empower responsible choices for a more sustainable South Africa.

Melisha Nagiah, WWF-SASSI Project Officer