All posts by Kirtanya Lutchminarayan

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

WWF-SASSI Lockdown Diaries: Deep thoughts and creative solutions

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I believe I have just about read almost every (stress on almost) blog, article, commentary and/or opinion pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic and our current lockdown. These information tidbits covered topics on the biology of the virus, its impact on our health care system, local economies, global economies, big businesses, small business , food production and the plight of the most vulnerable. How you can help, how I can help, what government is doing, should be doing and can do?

People have wonderfully couched both the pandemic and lockdown as both a curse and a blessing, others have flipped it on its head and found the opportunities in it. Many have pointed out the silver linings amidst all the sadness and end with a final cling to hope that we will overcome and emerge stronger from it. Pieces on how to cope during the lockdown while working remotely, managing children, partners, spouses and pets have particularly fascinated me!

The trials and tribulations of dealing with kids (in, out and on top of zoom meetings), unrealistic work deadlines, unruly partnership demands, too much housework, crazy cooking sessions and downright devilish snack cravings have been superbly described and expounded on with candor and vivid honesty. But what about the person who is literally all alone during lockdown! This has been top of mind especially since I spent the three weeks alone.  Coping as a single person is very different and I have had to work on creative and novel (excuse the pun) ways of not losing my sanity. More importantly when I say being creative I don’t mean binge watching Netflix. I have found that a virtual book club is fabulous, virtual yoga classes are off the hook and forget online dating, try online dinners – all these have been a saving grace.  Finally, dealing with being alone in lockdown has taught me that meditation, dedication to routine and rediscovering the value of ones own company are some of the best coping mechanisms………along with good snacks and comfortable slacks!

Pavs Pillay: WWF-SASSI 

WWF-SASSI Lockdown Diaries: What do yoghurt tubs have to do with the ocean?

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Guess which tub has yoghurt?

Guess which tub has yoghurt?

Being on lockdown and working from home during these past few weeks has really forced me to adapt to the new norms. While I love cooking and baking to get my mind off from work and my eyes away from the screen, I also realised that I love yoghurt just as much. This means too much food, tubs of yoghurt and a lot of waste!

As an ocean lover, this really makes me cringe, as I know that much of the waste we generate can surely be reused! When I’m on my usual morning jogs, I see a lot of everyday objects floating in our rivers and seas, essentially littering the home of so many marine animals that I admire and work to protect. I purposefully use the word home and not habitat, because we can probably identify more with having a home. Now imagine wading through a plastic-filled lounge while trying to get to your next snack- To me, it’s the same with marine life. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. What we also don’t see is the microplastic that our larger pieces of plastic waste breaks down into, that are then unknowingly ingested by these animals.

This has spurred me to rather repurpose and reuse my yoghurt tubs to store my food instead of putting them in the garbage, or recycling. It’s these simple easy things that can make all the difference! When I think about it, I probably moaned as a child when I opened up our family’s ice cream containers and yoghurt tubs to find something else in them, but now I see the value and will laugh to myself every time I find myself doing the same.

Now to answer the question in the image caption, none of those tubs has yoghurt. They all contain my snacks, lunches and suppers. These tubs are also great for  DIY projects such as gardening, stationary holders or other storage. You could even paint and decorate them to your own preference!

During this lockdown, this is one way I have been helping in ensuring that my tubs are not going to the ocean, my favourite place that I eagerly await to enjoy once again.

Delsy Sifundza: WWF-SASSI

WWF-SASSI Lockdown Diaries: Each one Teach one

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You may be working remotely. You may feel all Zoomed out from virtual meetings. You may have returned home, where you’re missing friends and finding working conditions difficult. Or maybe you’ve stayed put and worry about your family. Perhaps you’re juggling your children’s educational needs as well as your own. You might have lost funding or your job. Whether you’re an athlete, student or teacher, you’re probably feeling anxious, sad and uncertain. These feelings are normal. Here’s my take on coping with COVID-19.

As a conservation scientist, I am re-energised by working in nature. Being on lockdown has meant that these bursts of energy and quiet time of reflection in nature are no longer a luxury I can afford. I consider myself to be one of the fortunate ones as I got to come home and spend this time with my parents. Bear in mind my folks are teachers, one being at an ex Model C school and the other at a government school. This basically translates to them using different methods to teach and work remotely. This proved as a monumental learning curve for all of us and in some ways served a greater purpose to learn more about the concerns and environments we each work in.

Although, there are times when they tend to baby me and forget I’m an independent working professional, I remind myself to be thankful in those moments. I find myself waking up and being thankful for one thing every day and this has shifted my mental state!

For now, I have been able to re-energise and find motivation from watching my parents serve and work so tirelessly to ensure our future generations are afforded the same opportunity I have been given, to one day be heard and seen.

Melisha Nagiah

COVID-19 and our relationship with nature: Insights from WWF International

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panda distanceThis COVID-19 pandemic is yet another manifestation of our dangerously unbalanced relationship with nature. If a zoonotic emerging infectious disease was to combine high transmission rates during the asymptomatic phase, like COVID-19, with higher fatality rates like with Ebola, the consequences would be devastating.

This global crisis has indeed highlighted the risks we are taking by degrading and destabilising nature and it has highlighted the fact that protecting nature and its amazing diversity of life, is protecting ourselves. Early into the COVID-19 crisis WWF released a brilliant report, that we recommend you read and share, initiated by WWF-Italy entitled: “The loss of nature and the rise of pandemics”.

This pandemic gives us license to push for systemic change

Our nature-based ‘health insurance’ policy should go broader. The drivers of wildlife trade and wild meat consumption, land use change, intensification of agriculture and livestock production are interacting in ways that amplify and accelerate the risk for an emerging infectious disease event.

To prevent future and even more catastrophic pandemics, WWF states that trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife should be highly regulated or eliminated, while also considering the distinction and needs of subsistence consumption required for communities from the Arctic first nations to the forest dependent indigenous communities around the world.

As we emerge from this crisis, we must embrace a just and green transition towards an economic model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society and a thriving economy. This is our chance to put things right and rebalance our relationship with the planet. To call for nature-based solutions that enhance human health and safety. “The time has come to correct these design defects in our economic and corporate models”, says WWF International President, Pavan Sukhdev, in his latest blog.

Be sure to follow the links in this article for the full picture!

Kirtanya Lutchminarayan: WWF-SASSI