22 Jun 11 Good fish eating, bad fish eating
With the world’s oceans in dire straights, eating wild-caught fish is increasingly an ethical decision for many. South Africa has a sensible system of knowing which seafood is sustainably produced, but this investigation by The Times shows that in many instances it’s being paid not much more than lip service by its partners and supporters.
IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE six-year-old Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi), South Africans would have been eating a lot more endangered marine species right now.
Thanks to Sassi, a World Wide Fund for Nature awareness initiative that groups more than 100 types of seafood into colour-coded categories, more of us are becoming aware that so-called green seafood is good seafood and that orange seafood is the stuff under pressure, so we should avoid it where we can – or just choose green instead.
The stuff in the red category is in such trouble that this is the seafood we should never buy and, as a result of Sassi’s efforts, its countrywide partner restaurants and retailers have also agreed not to sell any of it.
As Sassi partners, they’re also urged to provide consumers with “adequately labelled” seafood that includes information on the product’s origin and production method – which is where the application of the initiative’s guidelines become clear as mud.
Asked to recommend green seafood, my Ocean Basket waiter suggested two orange-listed species (sole and prawns). Sassi’s Dr Samantha Petersen describes Ocean Basket as a major supporter of the initiative, but none of the seafood on the restaurant’s menu was colour-coded or accompanied by information on where and how it was harvested.
Sassi’s educational material, such as posters and pocket cards, was not anywhere within sight of the casual observer, which, presumably, includes most punters.
Same story at Sassi’s other major partner restaurant, the Spur-owned franchise John Dory’s, where the waiter claimed that “all” seafood on the menu was green – even though a variety of prawn, kingklip and sole dishes were on offer.
“We supply customers with the correct name (and) place of origin, as set out in our menu,” Spur group MD Pierre van Tonder has countered – although this information was not on their menu when I looked at it.
I also randomly inspected the online menus of 16 additional Sassi partner restaurants. Of these, Blowfish in Cape Town was the only restaurant whose menu featured any colour-coding – in this instance, for green seafood. The majority of items were not accompanied by any details on their origins and not a single menu explained how its seafood was harvested.
And, at Pick n Pay’s seafood counter, where product information was as rare as bluefin tuna, the attendant looked as though I’d ordered kangaroo maki when I asked her for some green fish.
Would it be so hard for Sassi’s partners to colour-code their menus and products, and furnish these with the basic printed information needed by consumers who want to do the right thing?
John Dory’s and Pick n Pay have expressed regret over the misleading recommendations by their staff and underlined the “ongoing” seafood-awareness training programmes to which the staff are exposed. They also stressed that Sassi’s educational materials are available in all their outlets, with similar sentiments echoed by Ocean Basket.
“Sassi and sustainability are topics on our lips all the time,” said Ocean Basket executive chairman George Nichas, who added that the group’s products are labelled “with all the required information by Sassi as to … species, origin and traceability of the merchandise. This packaging information would gladly be shown to a customer upon request.”
As for colour-coded seafood, Pick n Pay’s sustainable development manager, André Nel, was amenable to suggestions of dividing the retailer’s display counters into green and orange sections, although he did not seem to think it was possible to colour-code the products themselves. “Sassi is a consumer-awareness programme (and) does not allow any specific product endorsement. We therefore are not allowed to label products in green or orange,” he said.
Nel was being economical with the truth…..