The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) was established in 2004 to drive change in the local seafood industry and empower consumers to buy sustainable seafood.

SASSI, in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature, aims to educate the entire value chain, from fishers to suppliers and retailers, to shift the demand for overexploited species to more sustainable ones.

SASSI provides easy-to-use tools that categorise seafood species according to a ‘traffic light’ system represented by red, orange and green colours. This article discusses the most popular seafood and its levesl of sustainability. Sustainability is determined by how and where the seafood is caught or produced.

Shellfish

Prawn and shrimp

Most prawns consumed in South Africa are imported from farms around the world. Giant tiger prawns are commonly imported from Vietnam and India. Tiger prawns produced in extensive pond systems get the green light for sustainability and semi-intensive systems the orange light. Those originating from intensive systems, however, are on the red list.

Cold water prawns are usually imported from Norway. These prawns have been fished beyond sustainable levels in the last few years and are therefore on the orange list. The so-called demersal otter trawl method, which is used to catch prawns, likely has a negative impact on the seabed.

Most shrimp are on the red list with the exception of whiteleg shrimp, which is on the orange list because producers have a ‘Best Aquaculture Practices’ certification system in place. This shrimp is imported mainly from Thailand and Vietnam. Kiddi shrimp, also known as Indian shrimp, and pink shrimp from Mozambique, are considered unsustainable.

Mussels and oysters

Black mussels are indigenous to South Africa’s south coast and are often mistaken for the Mediterranean mussel that was introduced to local waters. Black mussels are on the green list because their production in aquaculture is sustainable and does not harm the environment. They are farmed on ropes suspended in the water. As filter feeders, mussels and oysters tend to enhance water quality.

Black mussels are produced primarily in the Saldanha Bay area, and strict environmental assessments and permit regulations monitor aquaculture practices. Mediterranean mussels are also produced sustainably in this area and may only be collected by hand from the wild by recreational anglers with permits. Blue mussels, also known as Chinese mussels, are produced in China and imported to South Africa. These mussels are sustainable, as are Chilean blue mussels from Chile.

There are two main species of oysters in South Africa: the indigenous Cape Rock oyster and the invasive Pacific oyster. Cape Rock oysters are sustainable in KwaZulu-Natal, but this is not the case in the Southern Cape. The latter is therefore on the orange list. Pacific oysters are produced sustainably in South Africa and China, from where they are often imported.

Fish

Oceans worldwide offer a variety of fish, but the reality is that their numbers are dwindling because many species have been and are being overfished. You can make a difference by learning more about the sustainability status of the fish species you eat most often.

Hake

Deep-water Cape hake and shallow-water Cape hake are both highly fertile species, which makes them highly resilient to overfishing. The most recent stock assessments suggest that they are harvested at sustainable levels. Hake caught locally through trawling is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable and is therefore on the SASSI green list.

Tuna

Yellowfin tuna is highly valued for sashimi and is often served in restaurants. This species is at risk of being overfished in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. This fish is on the SASSI orange list because there are concerns that the increasing fishing levels will not be sustainable.

Salmon

Atlantic salmon, which is on the SASSI orange list, spend the first part of their lives in freshwater streams before migrating to the ocean as adults, and later return to streams for spawning. Norway is the leading producer of Atlantic salmon in the world.

Salmon found in South Africa is imported from salmon farms in Norway. Management of salmon in aquaculture systems in this country is considered to be effective since strict regulations are in place, but the Aquaculture Stewardship Council has certified only a few Norwegian producers as sustainable. Salmon is also produced in Scotland. – Ursula Human, FarmBiz