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

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.