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It is a well-known fact that, like it or not, all the choices we make have a corresponding set of consequences.

This goes for large life-choices like whether to start a family, and seemingly small ones like what kind of sushi to order. What we don’t know is the size of these consequences. It may therefore come as a surprise to some people that by choosing a certain fish dish in a restaurant, they are contributing to the clubbing of seal pups off the coast of Namibia, or that by picking one type of California roll over another might mean that one day soon they will never be able to enjoy another snoek* braai as the entire species will be extinct. If these facts are indeed a surprise, you really need to get acquainted with SASSI.

SASSI, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, is an organisation dedicated to helping the consumer to make better choices about seafood in order to ensure the sustainability of our seas.

Why is this important and how does it relate to you?

• The ocean is a resource that has indisputable value. To the majority of people reading this, i.e. you, the ocean’s main value is as a food source, a yummy, healthy, low-fat one at that. Every time you tuck into a plate of sushi or enjoy some fresh fish n’ chips down at the harbour, you are utilising this resource.

• For many people up and down the coast of southern Africa (and beyond), the ocean provides the income they need to survive. If the underwater environment that supports marine life is destroyed or the fish stocks are completely killed off, these guys, from the poor fishermen on the west coast of South Africa to the larger tourist diving operations in Mozambique, can say goodbye to their livelihoods.

• Finally, the natural environment has an inherent value that is hard to explain. All ecosystems operate on a fine balance. In the ocean (as on land), each species plays a unique role in the ecosystem right down to the itsy-bitsy plankton. Take small bottom feeders like prawns, for example, whose job description is to gobble up debris and keep the sea clean. If this species is destroyed, the sea will remain dirty and all the other marine animals and plants will suffer as a result. This could conceivably happen if the bottom feeders’ main predator were overfished to the point of extinction. If you can appreciate the intricate role each species plays and marvel at how perfectly everything fits together, you too might find it unacceptable that the ocean is under such huge threat from humans.

What can you do to help the situation?

In short, use your power as a consumer to make responsible choices. SASSI has compiled a database of fish species that classifies each one into one of three categories. These categories are based on a ‘traffic light’ colour system.

Green: A-OK! If a species is listed in the green category, it is a sustainable choice. The population is strong and/or well-managed and fishing practices are not harmful to the environment nor the other species that may be caught as a by-product. You can buy this fish in a restaurant or shop with a clear conscience.

Orange: Think twice before buying this fish. These species give reason for concern. This may be due to the small size of the population, the species biology (e.g. a slow breeding rate) and/or harmful fishing practices associated with the catch.

Red: Stop! Do not buy this species under any circumstances. The fishing of this species is either unsustainable or illegal, often due to the fact that it is under threat of extinction or the fishing practices used to harvest it threaten other species.

To find out how the species rank you can do one of three things:

• Check the database using the search tool on the SASSI website (type name of fish and then click ‘search’).
• Download a mini SASSI booklet which lists the most common species with their SASSI colour-rating (The booklet and the search bar are found on the lower right-hand side of the home page).
• Send a ‘fish MS’ by smsing the name of the fish to 079 499 8795 and await the reply informing you of its colour-rating (service only available in South Africa, standard rates apply).

SASSI recommends that when you order fish in a restaurant or buy it in a shop, always ask 3 questions:

1) What type of fish is it?
2) Where does it come from?
3) How was it farmed?

In this manner you will not only be keeping yourself informed, you’ll also draw attention to the issue and put pressure on businesses to adopt a sustainable ocean ethic.
I now encourage you, armed with new knowledge, to go out and make responsible, ethical seafood choices, and share this post so others can do the same.

*The status of the snoek species is currently being re-evaluated by SASSI

Africa Geographic Travel
Catherine Sempill

Hey, Catherine here. I’m the new blogging intern at Africa Geographic. I graduated from UCT in 2010 after studying Media &Writing and then took off to work and travel my way through South America and learn a thing or two about the world. I came back with a Spanish repertoire, a few salsa moves and an intensified love for writing, blogging and ‘discovering’. It is these passions which landed me on the doorstep of Africa Geographic. Viva!