/ 5 August 2023

Consumers are choosing to buy sustainably sourced fish

​there's A Crisis In Our Oceans, Illegal Fishing Dwarfs Ivory And Rhino Horn Poaching

A new report has found a notable shift in the seafood choices of consumers. The report, from the World Wide Fund for Nature, titled Small Fry, Big Impact, found that more people are choosing to eat sustainably sourced fish. 

The scheme engages with South Africa’s top seafood vendors — including five of the six big retailers — to facilitate the adoption of sustainable seafood practices within their supply chains.

The participants included John Dory’s, Pick n Pay, Food Lovers Market, Woolworths, The Spar Group Limited, Ocean Basket, Shoprite Holdings Group and Atlantis Foods Group.

The increased demand for certified sustainable seafood products reflects a positive change in consumer behaviour, encouraging the fishing industry to respond with more responsible practices, it says.

People are opting for sustainable seafood because they are becoming aware of what might happen should the fishing industry continue with irresponsible practices such as overfishing and unsustainable fish farming. 

Overfishing creates an imbalance that can destroy the food web and lead to the loss of other important marine life, including vulnerable species such as sea turtles and corals. Coastal communities suffer as the fishing economy on which they rely is threatened. 

Unsustainable farming creates problems for the fish in the facilities as well as the surrounding ecosystems, such as the buildup of disease and parasites. 

The report says when visiting local supermarkets and restaurants, consumers are starting to ask questions such as, “What species is this, where is it from and how was it caught or farmed?”

The World Wide Fund for Nature Southern Africa Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-SASSI) scheme has been operating for 15 years.

“Through the scheme, WWF-SASSI also ensures that its participants are actively asking — and providing answers to — those same three questions to offer transparency for their customers. We do this through foundational training for participants’ key teams and front-of-house staff who frequently engage with seafood-buying customers,” says Justin Smith, head of business development at WWF South Africa. 

Challenges remain

Despite the positive trends, the report also underscores challenges in implementing sustainable fishing practices. 

One of these is limited consumer awareness. The report found that while 59% of consumers actively eat sustainable seafood, 33% did not know what it was. The scheme is an opportunity for retailers and suppliers to teach consumers about sustainable seafood. 

Addressing these challenges is crucial to making sustainable seafood practices more accessible and mainstream.

The report highlights several ways participants can help transform the seafood supply chain in South Africa, such as the use of correct labelling, demanding transparency from suppliers as well as educating and communicating with consumers.  

By working together, they can develop and implement effective strategies to safeguard marine resources and ensure the long-term viability of South Africa’s fisheries.

According to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment ocean and coastal ecosystems are important as, among other factors, they directly and indirectly impact on human livelihoods, food security, agriculture, trade and industry.

But overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices have put significant strain on populations and marine habitats. 

Big conservation area

The report states that there is still a long way to go for us to get to a place where oceans can be safeguarded from harmful activities. 

“Only 5,4% of the ocean in South Africa is protected within our exclusive economic zone. There is much more work needed to reach the international goal of 30% of our ocean waters being protected,” the report says. 

In a previous article, Karl Naude, the director of protected area planning and management effectiveness at the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment said we would need to add an area roughly the size of the Kruger National Park every year to the protected areas to meet the 30% goal by 2030. 

By acting on the report’s findings and recommendations, South Africa can pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient fishing industry that helps to ensure the long-term health of marine ecosystems and secure the livelihoods of coastal communities. 

Lesego Chepape is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa