If you’re cooking, do you know what you’re catching?



Posted on 07 November 2012
Local chefs who are hungry for change have joined a new WWF-SASSI campaign, launching this week to encourage consumers to be more aware of what seafood they are buying and eating.

Brad Ball (Bistro 1682), Vanessa Marx (Dear Me) and Stefan Marais (Societi Bistro) are among those local culinary kingpins who will work with WWF-SASSI throughout November to raise awareness around dwindling fish stocks and encourage consumers to exercise green choices when it comes to seafood.

WWF-SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative), which started in 2004, seeks to provide consumers with easy-to-use tools to help them make sustainable choices when it comes to buying seafood.

“As a chef, I believe I have a responsibility to educate restaurant diners in selecting produce that is sustainable. Future generations should have the opportunity to enjoy the amazing fish that I have had the pleasure of eating and cooking,” says Brad Ball.

The manager of the WWF-SASSI initiative, Janine Basson, says the campaign was launched in response to the state of local fisheries and that the need to protect these remains high.

“Almost eighty per cent (79%) of key South African linefish species are overexploited or their populations have collapsed. Some household favourites such as Cape salmon/geelbek have collapsed, and kob/kabeljou is at less than 20% of its pre-fished populations. We knew we had to act immediately to galvanise the public into helping us make the right decisions.

“The health of many of our coastal communities is inextricably linked to the health of our marine resources,” she added.

WWF-SASSI has developed an easy-to-use fish list based on a traffic light system (green = best choice from the most sustainable and responsibly managed fisheries; orange = think twice because there are some concerns either relating to the stock status or the fishing method/management of the fishery, and red = avoid completely/don’t buy because it comes from an unsustainable source).

Consumers are able to SMS their fish choice to a dedicated hotline and receive a swift response letting them know how it rates. There is also an app for Blackberry phones that consumers can download for free from Blackberry App World.

“Using these tools, consumers can find out instantly if their purchase is sustainable or not. This empowers them to use their buying power to shift demand away from overexploited species towards sustainable options, and use their voice to communicate to restaurants and retailers the importance of seafood sustainability in their procurement practises,” says Basson.

“There is no reason why people cannot switch from old family favourite recipes using overfished seafood to new, more environmentally friendly options,” says Vanessa Marx, head chef at Dear Me restaurant, located in Cape Town. “All it takes is some creativity and curiosity.”

To illustrate this, Marx and other chefs participating in the campaign will be featured on Expresso every Thursday morning in November. They will be showcasing old favourite recipes, made with (now) unsustainable (orange- or red-listed) fish revamped with green-listed sustainable seafood options. These cooking segments will be used to demonstrate the link between cooking and eating seafood, and using the WWF-SASSI tools.

“Our partnerships with chefs are inspired by a love of seafood and a shared commitment to help restore our overexploited seafood species,” says Basson. “Chefs play a critical role in influencing popular taste. Through diversifying their use of seafood species, chefs not only expand their customer’s palates but can also influence which fish are sought by suppliers and demanded by consumers. Chefs who support and promote ocean-friendly seafood can help ensure that there are fish to catch and enjoy tomorrow and help ensure the health of our oceans for the future.”

The WWF-SASSI initiative has been a great success in lobbying public support. A recent independent consumer survey indicated that 30% of SASSI’s target market is aware of SASSI of its conservation message. A further 89% of this target market indicated that the SASSI-tools have influenced their decision-making. Also, 60% of the seafood retail market and approximately 200 restaurants are also actively engaged with SASSI. The latest drive will seek to raise awareness further amongst the public and retailers to drive these numbers even higher. 
Local chefs who are hungry for change have joined a new WWF-SASSI campaign.
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