Taking sustainable seafood seriously

As is becoming ever-better known, we are decimating the wild fish in the ocean. It is now clear that many of the most popular eating fish, most notably including those sushi bar sacrificial “lambs”, salmon and tuna, have declined by 90% in the seas in the last few decades. The ocean does not factor for the market signals of supply and demand when humans send out factory-sized trawlers that harvest at a pace that will continue to collapse entire populations of fish.

The end of this chain of decimation is you and me, the consumer. We need to send the signal back up the line that we know what we are eating and that we choose not to eat fish that has been caught in an unsustainable manner and then put on a menu. (I am looking at Ile Maurice, inter alia.) We all need to install the SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) app on our phones or use the FishMS line (type the name of a fish and send it to 079 499 8795) to identify what is in front of us. And we need to act in supermarkets too, buying sustainable tuna for those sandwiches.

A recent meal at Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg brought an initiative to my attention that I think is an excellent one in this regard. The restaurant places a carved wooden fish on the table with a QR-coded tag. This tag, once scanned, brings up information about the day’s fresh fish offering – info on what kind of fish it is, who caught it, where it was caught and even the boat used. It’s a service provided by Abalobi (isiXhosa for “small scale fisher”), geared to transforming the governance of small-scale fisheries “from hook to cook“, and “born out of brainstorming sessions between the University of Cape Town researchers, the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and several small-scale fisher community representatives, following discussions on implementation of the Small Scale Fisheries Policy and United Nations FAO Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries”.

That’s quite a mouthful, but it’s a fantastic way to make “knowledge of provenance” a very real, alive concept, right at the point of purchase and in an entertaining way, although the marketing of the initiative – for instance its name and the website access – could be better introduced. Simply a QR code with no more info requires quite some collateral explanation from the waiter and one hopes they do this job every time and adequately.

When I scanned the tag I got this information on lunch, a bream caught by Wilfred off Lambert’s Bay:

Abalobi is a really wonderful integration of the real – real marine issues, a real agricultural sector that’s under strain and real people, the fishers – with technology that adds an interesting dimension to the dining experience. Wouldn’t mind seeing similar ideas used in other food supply chains.