Green means go: sustainable seafood

When you pluck your pinkly gleaming sashimi from the sushi carousel, how often do you stop to think about where it comes from – never mind ask the question? We know that 85% of the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or exploited to their maximum (2010 United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation report) and that certain fishing and farming methods have had a devastating environmental impact.

But it all starts with demand. Essentially, restaurants will offer what consumers want. However, there is a growing responsibility placed on restaurants to engage with their suppliers and customers about their seafood choices and ensure that they’re supporting responsible and sustainable practices. While some eateries claim to serve green-listed fish where possible, and others take it up a notch by offering tasting menus of sustainable seafood (The Greenhouse, Restaurant of the Year at the 2011 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards), not all restaurants are toeing the line.

Eat Out chatted to Wisaal Osman, WWF’s seafood consumer outreach officer, about SASSI’s Restaurant Supporter Programme.

How does a restaurant become a SASSI Supporter?
Joining the SASSI Restaurant Programme is on a voluntary basis. Being a SASSI Supporter means that a restaurant has attended an annual SASSI training course and has committed to phasing out unsustainable seafood (i.e. no local red-listed items); promoting sustainable choices; continuously evaluating seafood product ranges; providing customers with adequate information e.g. species, origin and production method; and endeavouring to offer seafood that is traceable to its origins.

Once a restaurant has undergone specific training it is given a SASSI certificate, which is valid for a year. SASSI does not dictate what seafood restaurants can or cannot serve, but rather aims to provide them with information that will help them make the best choices for themselves, their business and our oceans.

Who from the restaurant should attend the SASSI training?
The challenge is to ensure that not just managers, owners and chefs attend the training, but that we reach the front of house staff that engage with customers more regularly. In 2012 we will roll out specific courses to empower these staff to be able to answer customers’ queries and direct them to the SASSI tools.

What about restaurants claiming to be ‘SASSI compliant’?
SASSI is an awareness programme, not a certification body. We do not endorse any businesses so there is no such thing as ‘SASSI compliant’ or ‘SASSI accredited’. Consumers must realise that seeing the SASSI logo or a SASSI poster does not automatically mean that the restaurant has a relationship with SASSI, or that everything on the menu is acceptable. Consumers must still ask questions when they buy/eat seafood!

Why are there no Johannesburg restaurants on your SASSI Supporters list? Doesn’t Gauteng consume the most fish?
According to SASSI research, Gauteng is the biggest consumer of seafood. However, because SASSI is based in Cape Town, we have the biggest presence in the Western Province. We are working to increase SASSI’s presence at a national level through our networking partners. Restaurants respond to what their customers want – if the customer is not demanding a sustainable seafood product, restaurants will not offer one.

How does a restaurant become a SASSI Champion?
Restaurants themselves choose to be SASSI Restaurant Champions by serving and selling only green-listed species.

What is your message to consumers?
Not all seafood is equal, so always ask the three questions when buying seafood: What is it? Where is it from? How was it caught or farmed? These questions will send the message that you want to know about your seafood and you want more sustainable options. (Also use the FishMS service on your phone.) You can make a difference! Choose green.

The SASSI Restaurant Supporters are as follows:

John Dory´s Fish & Grill
Ocean Basket

Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient

Cafe 1999
Coral Tree
Moyo (uShaka)

Cape Town 
Black Marlin
The Codfather
Dear Me
Harbour House
The Hildebrand
Joe Fish
Live Bait
Quay Four
Shoreline Café
Trees Restaurant at the Townhouse Hotel
Two Oceans Restaurant (Cape Point)
Vineyard Hotel & Spa

Dornier Bodega
Spier Hotel Restaurant

Garden Route
Quay Four (Knysna)
Tsitsikamma Restaurant

West Coast
Die Strandloper

By Linda Scarborough and Kelly Pluke
Photograph: James Emery

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