Monthly Archives: November 2020

16 years of WWF-SASSI

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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

A snapshot of climate change impacts on South Africa’s oceans

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Our oceans are just as valuable as the species that depend on them and have absorbed approximately 28% of the carbon dioxide emitted through human activities and more than 90% of the added heat since the 19th century. This system is critical to our survival yet our oceans are changing right on our doorstep. To celebrate National Marine Month, WWF-SASSI shared a deep dive on climate change and our oceans, starting with setting a foundation of what climate change is and exploring global and local ocean impacts. Five of the major threats causing this are: overfishing;  pollution; habitat destruction; invasive species; and climate change. Healthy ecosystems are resilient ecosystems that are better equipped to adapt to change, but the combined effects of these environmental threats sadly reduce the ability of our precious species and ecosystems to adapt to change.

Climate impacts on our oceans globally, are showing up as:

  • Sea level rise -having implications for low-lying islands, coasts and communities
  • Changing marine ecosystems and species distributions
  • Ocean acidification causing coral bleaching
  • Effects on dependent communities
  • Extremes in weather and abrupt changes

South Africa’s unique ~3000km coastline is a mix of different systems and currents that underpin these ecosystems. In short, the cool west coast is getting cooler and the warm east coast is getting warmer.  Globally, South Africa shows the highest regional variability in oxygen, acidity and temperature. This means our dissolved oxygen is decreasing, whilst ocean acidity and sea temperatures are increasing. Why is this a problem, you may ask?

Marine species are moving out of their normal habitats to more favourable areas as waters temperature changes. Experiments have shown warmer and more acidic water disrupting fishes’ ability to find food, find a home, and preventing beneficial relationships with other creatures. This too impacts population dynamics and entire ecosystems. As the ocean acidifies and dissolved oxygen decreases, physiology and ecology of marine species are also expected to be affected. Changes in oxygen can affect survival, reproduction and growth of numerous species, as well as their resistance to diseases. Acidification  affects growth, larval mortality and behaviour in certain groups of marine organisms. This affects especially the calcifiers (e.g. shellfish) in natural environments as acidification alters the calcium carbonate in skeletons or shells of organisms. Changes in marine species distributions can alter the combination of predators, parasites and competitors in an ecosystem, resulting in changes to ecosystem function and productivity.

Pretty much EVERYTHING can change when climate changes.

South Africa’s marine fisheries depend on coastal and offshore ecosystems with the main commercial stocks being sardine, anchovy, Cape hake, horse mackerel, rock lobsters, tuna, shark, squid and prawns. Anchovy and sardine are fished the most by volume, and adult stocks depend on the upwelling west coast region while the south coast is important for their spawning. Hake, abalone, rock lobsters and squid are among our most valuable resources. A study on the vulnerability of South African fisheries to climate change identified the line fish and small pelagic fisheries as the most vulnerable. West Coast rock lobster, squid and marine aquaculture were identified as sectors with medium vulnerability.

Rising sea levels have been recorded all along South Africa’s coastline, and increased coral bleaching on the north east coast has affected reef health. Overfishing may result in reduced genetic variability of fish, which may negatively affect an evolutionary response to climate change and the ability of depleted stocks to recover. Stocks under intense exploitation pressure are likely to be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than optimal exploited populations.

Everyone can help in the fight to save our oceans. The most important thing you can do is to buy sustainable, SASSI green-listed fish. Sustainably managed fish stocks will cope better with the changing environment. Healthy stocks and sustainable fisheries governance means fishing has a reduced footprint on the ecosystem: this leads to more resilient ocean populations and habitats. Healthy stocks mean less fuel and other resources needed to harvest them. Other lifestyle behaviour changes to reduce your carbon footprint include auditing your consumption which includes: your clothing, means and frequency of travel, plastic-use (made from fossil fuels), reducing food and other waste, buying local and being energy smart. There is no Planet B, and this is our shared home. With climate change effects being seen and greater impacts looming, we can all be part of the solution if we take small yet meaningful actions now.

Kirtanya Lutchminarayan WWF-SASSI Project Officer

The culinary industry – Is it all doom and gloom?

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Summer harvest trout salad

The industry that provides food, wine, entertainment and most importantly togetherness was on standstill during the lockdown. Who would have thought that could happen? Not being able to get your favourite meal or enjoy the company of friends and family. As the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) we did feel and see the impact the pandemic and lockdown has caused, especially in the culinary industry.

Chefs went from serving many customers to shutting down and closing business. We as SASSI decided to run a survey on the impact the lockdown has caused on the livelihoods of many chefs. The results were shocking and further confirmed what was seen on social media. Chefs had to close business, let go of staff, cut pay and no pay at all. They also could not get their imported ingredients as borders closed and there were delays as well. This continued even after the easing of lockdown regulations.

But is it all doom and gloom? The answer is no, we as SASSI have witnessed a more vibrant and engaging sector than ever before. Chefs continued going to their restaurants to cook but for a different clientele, and this included, soup kitchens, cooking for shelters and the homeless. Chefs went as far as changing their menu to takeaways, home delivery, cooking shows, selling frozen food to even going the extra mile to making their signature sauces for selling. The lockdown has further highlighted a very important message that SASSI has been promoting, which is sustainability, buying of locally produced and seasonal food. With no doubt, the industry is slowly adjusting to the new norm and interestingly people are receiving the changes very well.

Delsy Sifundza, WWF-SASSI Science Project Officer

The 2020 WWF-SASSI Trailblazer Chefs

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Trailblazer awards

The year 2020 commemorates the 16 year journey of the SASSI programme which has become a popular household name across SA. This has been achieved by building knowledge about seafood species and collectively working with consumers, chefs, restaurants, retailers/supplier and fisheries to fundamentally shift attitudes towards understanding the complex issue of seafood sustainability and drive informed choices.

CONGRATULATIONS to our WWF-SASSI Trailblazer Chefs 2020! We celebrate six South African chefs, who play a pivotal role in this journey by awarding them WWF-SASSI Trailblazer status for their commitment to the use of sustainable seafood and championing sustainable seafood practices in their restaurants.
The 2020 WWF-SASSI Trailblazer recipients are:

Chef Andrew Atkinson – Shalati
Chef Neill Anthony – La Mouette
Chef Judi Fourie – Pilcrow & Cleaver
Chef Jamie Friedberg – Between Us
Chef Christina Semczyszyn – Tjing Tjing
Chef Jess Van Dyk – Protege

The chefs were chosen on the basis of the following factors which has rigorous criteria:

  • The restaurant’s seafood sustainability policy.
  • The effectiveness of their communication of their seafood sustainability practices to their customers, employees and suppliers.
  • Their level of engagement in communicating their seafood sustainability practices to a wider audience.
  • The ‘Trailblazer factor’ – chefs and restaurants going the extra mile in promoting and supporting seafood sustainability.

Commenting on the awards Pavs Pillay, manager of the SASSI Programme with WWF-SA, said; “Chefs serve as the gatekeepers for the food and hospitality industry and so play a critical role in leading market forces, influencing popular taste and promoting ocean-friendly seafood. Chefs that lead the way in sustainability are true ocean stewards.

Our partnership with them is inspired by their commitment to help restore our overexploited seafood species and safeguard our ocean. The chefs we recognise have gone the extra mile in advocating the sustainability message. Congratulations to all the winners!


Updates to the SASSI list!

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In a world where adapt or die is key, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has managed to adapt to changing times and information. As SASSI is based on rigorous science that is subject to change with new information, it is important to that we as SASSI keep up with those changes and update our materials accordingly. We are excited to inform of changes to certain species on our commercial list as well as updates to the fully protected, and recreational categories.

A total of 18 assessments across 5 fishing sectors were updated and a new assessment for Chokka squid (offshore trawl fishery) was included. Some positive changes to the list include the upgrade of Jacopever (offshore trawl fishery) and Black Musselcracker (linefishery) to Orange. Unfortunately, there were also some negative changes with the downgrading of King mackerel (linefishery) to Orange and Cape Dory (inshore trawl fishery) to Red.

A total of 22 recreational and 5 fully protected species underwent a full update of content and design incorporating new scientific information. As a number of our recreational species are still recovering, we ask that you not retain but rather tag & release any species that are listed as Endangered, Threatened or Vulnerable. For further information, on safe release and handling check out the Responsible Angler Guideline. Always remember that specially protected species can never be caught, and recreational species can only be caught by recreational fishers with a permit but cannot be sold.

If you are a consumer, fisher, or angler, you can make a sustainable and responsible choice by choosing fish on the WW-SASSI Green list. Please check our website, app, and SMS line regularly for more species updates.

Monica Stassen and Delsy Sifundza, WWF-SASSI Science Project Officers

Community based eco-tourism

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Eco-tourism can be used as a tool to motivate for responsible visits to natural areas that maintain the integrity of the ecosystem while producing economic benefits for local communities and thereby championing conservation. Training of community members to be eco-tour guides will not only empower them but also inspire the community to take better care of their natural resources. In a region such as the Kogelberg which is blessed with bountiful natural beauty but offers a dearth of livelihood options, eco-tourism provides the perfect opportunity for community members to diversify their livelihood options.

As one of the many community-based organisations in the area, WWF-SA has partnered with stakeholders involved in the tourism sector to assist in boosting the sector in the Kogelberg region. Five (5) members of the community are given an opportunity to be trained and become qualified eco-tour guides. The trainees will participate in the planning, coordination, and implementation of an eco-tourism programme, which will focus on creating a sustainable tourism sector.

The training began in September 2020 and is facilitated by Contour Training Academy (Contour Enviro Group). Upon completion, the participants, among other things will be able to conduct a guided experience within a specific area that entertains and educates tourists by interpreting cultural and natural environments; research, use and plan an itinerary themselves; present authentic, balanced interpretation of general aspects of South African society as well as specific sites and resources; and professionally and ethically conduct themselves in front of clients. Details of planned events will be shared with the WWF-SASSI supporters and for those that are interested in supporting these 5 eco-tour guides who hail from poverty-stricken communities, to establish themselves as a thriving community-based business.

Kholofelo Ramokone, WWF-SA Fisheries Project Officer

Climate change impacts on South Africa’s small scale fishers and popular linefish species

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Changes in the oceans have impacted marine ecosystems and negative impacts of climate change are expected for food security, local cultures and livelihoods. These impacts on ecosystem services already have negative consequences for the health and well-being of indigenous people and local communities dependent on fisheries.

WWF South Africa was part of research and a 2020 publication on Small-scale fisheries in a warming ocean: exploring adaptation to climate change. This reveals alarming insights from some of our popular fisheries in South Africa. According to the report, “Small-scale fisheries are by no means ‘small’ and appear to have an outsized impact on human health and nutrition, poverty alleviation, jobs, and the structure of seafood markets. Small-scale fisheries likely land nearly half the world’s seafood, playing a critical role in food security and nutrition, especially for those living in poverty. “

Workshops were held with fishers and other stakeholders 3 countries, including South Africa. Local indigenous knowledge is a valuable source of information to guide fisheries management towards greater sustainability, as it’s essential to involve the fishers themselves in decisions about their future. Fishers were asked to list the changes they observed during the last 10 years. They listed a lot of changes, which were grouped into three main categories: (1) climatic conditions, (2) impacts on the ecology and biology of marine resources, and (3) fishing practices.

(1) Changes in climatic conditions already observed locally by stakeholders and attributed to climate change in the last 10 years were increased seawater temperature and strength of winds. It appears that climate change is already a tangible reality for most The effects this has on marine resources and fishing activities can also be observed.

Among the changes observed by fishers and other stakeholders were that in (2) ecology and biology of marine resources. Some of the observations include:

  • Decrease in fish availability, either due to a decrease in fish abundance or the change in fish distribution (further offshore or deeper).
  • Changes in trophic relationships, either regarding fish predators or seabirds.
  • In South Africa, fishers remembered seeing fewer seabirds.
  • Changes in seasonality and species life cycle, inducing disturbances in fishing practices.
  • Some species being found in different places at the same time of the year, pushing fishers to travel further to catch the fish. This already happening with snoek along our coast.

Changes in (3) fishing activities and practices have already been observed locally by stakeholders:

  • Increase in distance to the shore for fishing
  • Reduced fishing yields
  • Reduced areas to fish
  • Reduced number of suitable fishing days
  • Increase in the number of fishers.

In South Africa fishers listed a lot of already significant changes in their activity because of climate change, in particular decreasing catches meaning they should go fishing farther offshore. This is a clear sign that climate change doesn’t just pose a threat to our marine species, but to fishers and those who depend on our oceans the most.

Climate effects on South African species in the line fishery were also explored in the study which was  identified as being the most vulnerable fishery towards climate change.

The report assessed species vulnerability to change i.e. their relative temperature sensitivity and adaptive capacity and the potential regional extent of such changes, along with the species’ individual degrees of exposure.

One of the major linefish species is SASSI green-listed favourite, snoek. Snoek appears on the edge of its temperature range and will probably be severely impacted by sea warming, even if actions are taken to prevent this. This suggests that the low vulnerability index found for snoek is not sufficient to assess the potential impact of climate change as the species prefers rather cool waters and will suffer from the sea warming. Snoek has a medium risk of climate impact. Carpenter seabream also appears on the edge of their temperature range and will probably be severely impacted by sea warming, even in the case of a strong mitigation scenario. Carpenter is green listed for the line fishery and its stock status is optimally exploited, yet it is one of the most threatened species in terms of biomass. Carpenter seabream has a medium risk of  climate impact and is highly vulnerable to climate change. The species has a particularly high risk of impact linked to temperature. Red-listed geelbek, also known as Cape salmon is classified as highly vulnerable, but is in fact a species already living in hot temperatures and thus it will probably suffer less from the sea warming expected in the South African EEZ, even in the worst climate change scenario. Geelbek is on the SASSI red list and is considered a collapsed species. Geelbek has a high vulnerability and high risk of impact linked to climate change. It is also one of the most threatened species in terms of biomass.

Fisheries that are successfully managed to achieve resource sustainability will be better positioned in the long term to adapt to the effects of climate change. This is because marine resources are likely to be more robust to the effects of climate change if the compounding stresses from overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution and other anthropogenic factors are reduced.

Adaptive fisheries management was proposed in the study the form of: Enforcement of effective monitoring, control and surveillance;  Precautionary targets and an ecosystem-based approach; and Research on fisheries adaptation. Mitigation suggestions include reduction of greenhouse gases such as: Reducing fishing vessel speed; Replacing towed fishing gears with passive gears; Increasing fuel and vessel efficiency, etc.

With all study participants acknowledging that the effects of climate change are already visible in their fisheries, it was immediately clear that local ecological knowledge and multi-stakeholder co-management will be key to adapting to a sustainable future for the small-scale sector. We are all beneficiaries of our oceans and we need to positively impact our environment, in order to have our best shot.

Kirtanya Lutchminarayan, WWF-SASSI Project Officer

The Great Reset – Post COVID-19 begins with changing our behaviour

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The latest World Economic Forum Report 2020, states that a “novel zoonotic disease, possibly triggered by human disturbance of nature” brought many sectors to a grinding halt. The 2020 pandemic has afforded us a rare opportunity to reset things because it is clear that if we continue with business as usual, we are walking off a cliff with our eyes wide open.

A reset is needed, one that must result in an outcome that benefits humans and nature for the long game, in a system that gives more than it takes.  A reset such as this only begins with changing our behaviour and mindsets.  Human behaviour change is fundamental to shifting systems without which we are merely going to go back to business as usual hoping for a different outcome. Behaviour change requires four fundamental pillars and processes that are iterative;

  • educate (learn, understand and digest),
  • engage (effective 2-way dialogue that evolves over time),
  • empower (linked to trust and ownership) and
  • enable (skills, structures and know-how).

This must be tightly coupled with four fundamental principles; empathy, energy/enthusiasm, ease and endurance. Furthermore, only when nature is restored, regeneratively used through responsible production and sustainable consumption in an equitable manner will both nature and people thrive.  So, while we all know we need to reset our economies, our businesses and our lives with nature, our behaviour will dictate our success.

Pavs Pillay, WWF-SA Environmental Behaviour Change Lead & WWF-SASSI Manager