All posts by Kirtanya Lutchminarayan

WWF-SASSI: Our role, our science and our journey

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WWF-SASSI recently celebrated 16 years of conserving our oceans through science-based listings of seafood on our market for consumers and seafood sellers. It has been a long road and not an easy one at that, with constant improvements and changes along the way. SASSI is powered by a small team of passionate marine biologists, skilled science communicators and well-known environmental scientists.

The Science of WWF-SASSI

The foundation that underpins the WWFSASSI list is called the Common Assessment Methodology, that is used internationally to inform their seafood guides and enable consumers. WWF-SA is part of a global network database that houses all the international assessments, which are peer-reviewed by qualified fisheries and marine specialists. The WWF-SASSI assessments process is more rigorous  and has a far more in-depth stakeholder engagement process allowing for a greater opportunity to comment and engage. It is for this reason that local species assessment processes take over a year to complete! As the saying goes, good things take time. New species that appear on the list are assessed on an annual bases while species that are already on the list are re-assessed every 3years.  Annually our scientist meets with other experts (at universities and within government)  in the field to assess if new data on existing species are available that will ensure assessment is comprehensive.

WWF-SASSI always invites constructive input that is based on scientific information so we can ensure that assessments contain the most recent data and are an accurate representation of the fishery during that period. That being said an assessment is a “snapshot” of the (commercial) fishery during a very specific time period and are updated as regularly, to help you make the best choice when it comes to seafood.

WWF-SASSI assessment process for local species:

  1. A notification of intent to assess is sent out to all individuals listed on the SASSI Assessment email list and SANCOR. Individuals have 30 days to comment and submit any information they feel is relevant. ANYONE can request to view and comment on an assessment!
  2. The assessments are drafted and then sent to the members of the Scientific Working Group of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, various research institutes such as SANBI, SAEON and ORI and universities for comment.
  3. The DRAFT assessment outcomes are released to the public. Individuals have 30 days to request copies of the assessment and submit comments. It is recommended that comments be substantiated with either peer-reviewed scientific papers, official reports or research reports.
  4. After the 30-day comment periods the SASSI External Review Panel meets. The review panel is made up of specialist scientists from a range of backgrounds. The purpose of the panel is to review submitted comments and ensure that the assessments are consistent across fisheries.
  5. After the panel meeting the assessments are finalized and notification of the FINAL OUTCOME is released with a 60-day transition period

Ecological concerns and Human Dimensions

WWF-SASSI is a voluntary compliance programme to empower individuals to choose more ecologically sustainable options when it comes to seafood. The choice we advocate for is green or seafood that carries a best practice certification that WWF and WWF-SASSI supports. For an Orange listing we ask you to think twice before purchasing and the recommendation for the red list is don’t buy, as these species are under serious conservation concern. WWF-SASSI like the broader WWF marine programme is based on an Ecosystem Approach to fisheries Management and hence provides information on the ecological suitability of a species. Unfortunately, this means that no matter who catches a red listed species, the conservation status of that species still remains red. The WWF South Africa marine programme does however work closely with the Fisheries and Oceans and Coasts branched in the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and the Environment and other NGO’s to address concerns around important small-scale fisheries, and are working with two coastal fishing communities in the Overberg and the Eastern Cape.

Over the last three years as part of a Global WWF project, Fish Forward 2, WWF-SA has tested a range of possible approaches to address the gap between ecological concerns and the human dimensions in fisheries. To ensure that the process was more inclusive, coastal communities along the coast were consulted and their input added to the project. The project is still underway and scheduled to be completed later this year, after which the assessment process will start integrating a human dimension element into the assessment.


The role of the government vs WWF-SASSI voluntary compliance

The government is mandated with the difficult task of managing our marine resources balancing conservation needs and socio-economic considerations both in the present and in the future. To assist in this decision-making process the department works with scientists and consultants to analyse and provide information on the status of fish stocks which is used to either calculate how much can be caught or how many fishers can operate in that sector. NGOs, fishing industry representatives and other specialist scientists are often invited to participate in meetings as observers.  WWF is one conservation NGO that is part of this, and our work is grounded on conservation principles both in the short term and in the long term. WWF wants to see a future for both people and nature to thrive. This sometimes involves precautionary management decisions in the short-term that are not ideal economically but aim to ensure there are fish to be caught and livelihoods can be maintained in the future.


Seas of Possibility: WWF-SASSI Annual Retailer & Supplier Participation Report

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The WWF-SASSI Retailer/Supplier Participation scheme continues to grow both in relevance and in the number of participants, working with 10 of South Africa’s leading retailers and suppliers of seafood! As the participants work toward achieving their public commitments to seafood sustainability, the WWF-SASSI programme facilitates collaborative efforts to address key seafood sustainability challenges facing the sector. You can download the latest report of the scheme, Seas of Possibilities which fosters collaboration for healthy and productive oceans.

Strong collective collaborations will ensure that a strong market driver for fisheries and aquaculture operations to improve and employ best practices continues. Participants are encouraged to advocate for better management practices, both locally and internationally, as there is significant scope for fisheries improvement.  Of importance, is a greater emphasis on ecological interactivity, ecosystem impacts of fishing and social-ecological interactions. In order to comprehensively address these challenges, transformational changes and joint action are needed across the seafood supply chain. One success story has been the participants-led engagement with the Namibian Hake association in 2015 requesting improvements in the fishery, culminating in the fishery being certified against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for wild-caught seafood. Similar pressure can be used to drive more aquaculture operations to aim for and achieve Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification along with chain of custody certifications.

The retailer/supplier participation scheme will transition to a more collaborative approach with the formation of the seafood alliance. The alliance will collectively address challenges such as mislabelling, transparency and traceability that will significantly curtail Illegal, Unreported & Unregulated fishing activities. The annual MSC & WWF-SASSI Sustainable Seafood Symposium in May also aids to optimise these efforts among key stakeholders in the industry.

These are necessary steps that we are part of driving to optimise sustainability through collective collaboration in South Africa’s seas of possibilities.

Amir Rezaei, WWF-SASSI Market Transformation Officer


Eastern Cape launch of WWF climate resilience work with coastal communities

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On the 30th of March 2021, representatives from various government departments, the private sector, NGO’s and members of the Hamburg community participated in the inception workshop to mark the formal launching of the project titled “building resilience of coastal communities, ecosystems and small-scale fishers’’. Launched at WWF’s new Hamburg Office in the Eastern Cape, the project funded by the Government of Flanders, will be jointly implemented by WWF-SA, ABALOBI and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The workshop served as a platform for the project partners to announce their plans and invite inputs from members of the Hamburg community and key stakeholders on which the success of this project will depend. A detailed implementation plan which will soon be produced by the project’s technical working team.

A total number of 44 people filled the WWF office while 24 others participated virtually in order to observe the protocols and regulations of COVID-19. More than 20 organisations were presented including representatives from Ngqushwa Local Municipality, Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment (DFFE), Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA), Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT), Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR), South African National Parks (SANParks), Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) , Indalo Inclusive and research institutions such as Rhodes University, University of Fort Hare, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and South African Environment Observation Network (SAEON).

The much needed project aims at building climate resilience of coastal communities, ecosystems and small-scale fishers through the implementation of community and ecosystem-based adaptation activities (EBAs) and the diversification of livelihoods. In addition to this, a community-based citizen science research project will also be rolled out with these communities as well as the ABALOBI mobile phone applications. The project will take place in the Kogelberg region (Western Cape) and Hamburg (Eastern Cape) and we excited to embark on this journey! For more information on the project, feel to contact Junaid Francis at

Nangamso Thole, Community Liaison Officer – WWF South Africa Marine Programme

Sustainable Seafood Recipe – Haddock & Potato Rosti

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Did you know that Haddock, in South Africa is in fact smoked Hake? Well now you do! Here is a delectable recipe generously provided by Cooking With Claire

Haddock & Potato Rosti

Ingredients: recipe

  • Potatoes (washed, peeled & grated)
  • Haddock (fresh from F4A)
  • Parmesan
  • Eggs
  • Spinach
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Onion Powder
  • Chives


  1. Prepare the potatoes by washing, peeling and grating them. Once grated, squeeze out and discard any access liquid in the potato. The potatoes must be dry. Place in a mixing bowl.
  2. To the bowl of grated potato, add small pieces (cut/flaked) of uncooked haddock. It doesn’t need to be pre-cooked as it will cook sufficiently with the potatoes. Season with pepper, onion powder and chives. Add grated Parmesan. Mix together.
  3. In a small pan, melt butter or add oil. Add in the haddock and potato mixture, ensuring the entire pan is covered. Pat down to form a rosti.
  4. NB: There are two ways to ensure the rosti is crispy on both sides (as a rosti should be). The first way is to flip the rosti after approximately 10 minutes of cooking, for this to work properly you’ll need to ensure you previously used LOTS of butter/oil so that it doesn’t stick to the pan. Alternatively, (and perhaps less intimidating) you can prepare the rosti in an oven proof pan. Once it’s cooked on the stove top for 10 minutes, pop it into the oven on grill to crisp the top part.
  5. Once you are satisfied with the level of rosti crispiness, remove the rosti from the pan and place onto the serving dish of your choice.
  6. Top with wilted baby spinach, a delicious poached egg and Parmesan shavings for a perfectly balanced brunch.


– Serve warm and enjoy with a cappuccino or mimosa!

– Be cautious when seasoning with salt as haddock and Parmesan add a salty flavour already.

– The rosti can be made in a larger size and cut into slices for serving larger groups. r

What are Fisheries Improvement Projects?

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Fish populations around the world have been declining in the last few decades and there are serious and escalating concerns regarding overfishing as a result of the seafood industry’s enormous impact on the economy, health and well-being of millions of people. How is this happening? The cause of this decline is no mystery. When some people think of fishing, they imagine relaxing in a boat and patiently reeling in the days catch. For years, commercial fishing fleets have been multiplying, and have gotten better at finding and catching fish using state of the art equipment. Overfishing has led to the depletion and endangerment of many species of fish. On top of rounding-up massive amounts of fish, some of these fisheries can unintentionally catch other species like seabirds, turtles, and dolphins.

There are many ways to tackle the issue of overfishing and It’s important to consider all possible solutions. One of the most direct approaches to challenge of overfishing is to undertake fishery improvement projects (FIP). A FIP is an initiative that brings together fishers, scientists, and other stakeholders to identify environmental challenges in a fishery and develops a stepwise approach to tackle those challenges. FIPs use the influence of the private sector businesses such as retailers and restaurants to create incentives for positive changes in a fishery’s environmental sustainability.

The goal of a FIP is to create measurable change that will meet the standard of environmental sustainability set by the Marine Stewardship Council, reflects the latest science and best management practices widely adopted by the world’s leading fisheries management organizations. WWF is part of this FIP journey  with the East coast rock lobster fishery and Squid jig fishery, among others.

While different fishery improvement projects may address different aspects of sustainable fisheries, and be of different sizes, they are all required to includes these core components. The first component is to set a shared goal that fisheries meet MSC standards which is formed through a signed memorandum of understanding. Secondly, the project work plan should have clearly defined goals and a timeline that allows for easy tracking of its progress. Thirdly, in addition to stakeholders being active participants, it is important for FIP to have the support of groups providing funding or in-kind support. Lastly, transparency is a hallmark of effective FIPs and gives stakeholders confidence that the project is creating measurable change on the environment.

Look out for certain species on the WWF-SASSI list, carrying the FIP banner, and remember, you have a choice. Make it green.

Bokamoso Lebepe, WWF’s Fisheries Improvement Programme Coordinator 

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Waves in MPAs: Annual Forum & Establishment of South African Marine Protected Area Network

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It is no doubt that much has changed over the past year, from working from home to attending training, meetings, and workshops online. The same can be said about the MPA (Marine Protected Area) Forum held in December 2020.

The 2020 MPA Forum, although done online, did not disappoint. It came at the right time, as it served as a source of information where stakeholders were informed of the latest MPA developments and projects that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. Issues discussed included MPA effectiveness, surveillance, marine alien species, whale disentanglement and others.

The two-day event was attended by a range of stakeholders, from MPA managers, staff, researchers, NGOs and students. Although the online forum was a success, it was indeed limiting, especially to community members who need to be part of these conversations. As a way forward, both online and in person engagement is very important in ensuring all stakeholders have an opportunity to build relationships with MPA managers and contribute to the co-management of MPAs.

The aim after all is to work with all the role players in the SA MPA sector to maintain and improve communication, management, and improve the capacity of staff in the SA MPA network. This is done through identification of key priority projects within the sector and discussion of collective solutions.

The good news for the MPA sector continues. WWF-SA have secured funding to establish SAMPAN (South African Marine Protected Area Network). SAMPAN aims to further collaborate and strengthens partnership within the SA MPA sector. The MPA Forum will be part of this project. The project further aims to support and establish a partnership with government and stakeholders to ensure our MPA network is expanded to meet the agreed CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) targets. Be on the lookout for the launch of SAMPAN and more exciting projects to come.

Delsy Sifundza, SAMPAN Coordinator at WWF South Africa

41WWFSA2008©Thomas P. Peschak

World Tuna Day – Choose Green!

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Did you know that there are 5 tuna species on the WWF-SASSI list? But, not all tuna is sustainable. This means that you need to ask 3 questions when purchasing your tinned tuna or fish dish:

  1. What species is it?
  2. How was it caught?
  3. Where it is from?

Yellowfin tuna and Albacore Tuna caught in South Africa by pole and line are great green listed options.

Check the free SASSI app to make a sustainable choice when eating seafood.

You have a choice, make it green.

Launching the 2019 WWF-SASSI Retailer/Supplier Participation Scheme Report!

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Greater collaboration is needed to secure sustainable seafood

Retailers and suppliers should work together in the interests of securing more sustainable seafood to their customers.”

This is one of the key messages in the latest WWF South Africa’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF SASSI) Retailer/Supplier Participation Scheme report which was released this week.

The sixth report, which was delayed due to Covid-19, focuses on progress made by the 10 participants in the scheme in 2019. Participants include leading seafood retailers, major supermarket and seafood restaurant chains.

The Retailer/Supplier Participation Scheme was initiated in 2008 as a platform for companies to make public commitments about the responsible sourcing and selling of sustainable seafood. The aim was also to create a strong market incentive for both commercial and small-scale fisheries to improve their production practices so that suppliers could buy from responsibly managed sources hence transforming the seafood supply chain.

An example of successful collaboration among the 10 participants, highlighted in the report, is the way in which scheme members were able to persuade the Namibian Hake Association to improve their fishery sufficiently to meet Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification standards.

Among several challenges cited in the report is the mislabelling of seafood, seafood from Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing activities making it way into legal markets as well as a change in the conservation status of specific species and the classification of bycatch.

Pavitray Pillay, WWF’s Environmental Behaviour Change Practitioner and WWF-SASSI Manager, commented: “By adopting a more unified voice and working together in a pre-competitive space, participants have the power to drive positive change on the water. Better communication means that they are able to overcome challenges together.”

Download the report here

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