Cape Town -
Yellowtail caught in Indian waters, and farmed in Korea and Japan, and snoek from New Zealand and Namibia are on offer in local stores, major retailers have confirmed.
Food Lovers Market and Pick n Pay have acknowledged buying imports of these two linefish species, citing consistency of supply and cheaper prices as major reasons.
Both say they are committed to working with conservation group WWF to ensure that labelling will reflect full information, allowing customers to make informed choices.
Neither gave any indication of what volumes of imported fish they were taking.
The two retailers were responding to a Cape Argus request for comment after fishermen complained that imports were causing the local linefish industry to “bleed”.
Nigel Meintjes, legal director of Fruit & Veg City Holdings (Food Lovers Market), confirmed that his firm had bought yellowtail caught in India and snoek from New Zealand.
“We have done so not with any intention to prejudice the local industry, but merely because the product purchased is fully traceable, we have consistency of supply throughout the year; and for the most part, (it) arrives at a price with which local producers cannot compete.”
The company was as concerned about the current state of South Africa’s linefish resource and the devastating effect this appeared to be having on communities, he added. It had therefore last year contracted with WWF’s Sassi (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) programme which included specific commitments and timelines.
“We take these commitments seriously and will not stop until we are completely compliant in this regard.”
Meintjes conceded that imported fish and farmed fish might not always have been labelled correctly.
“However, one of our commitments to WWF Sassi is to ensure that our labelling is fully compliant with their recommendations. It’s never been our intention to in any way mislead our customers, nor have we received any complaints,” he said.
Andre Nel, Pick n Pay’s general manager sustainability, said the supermarket chain sold imported farmed yellowtail but preferred to buy local fish when it was available.
“The main reason we sell imported product on these fish is because our current suppliers are not in a position to provide us with the volume that we need on fresh fish. All our imported (frozen) snoek is clearly labelled as being imported.”
Nel said the company had already started the process of rolling out transparent labelling that would give customers the information they needed to make an informed choice: “This will include country of origin, common name, scientific name, and catch method.”
Pick n Pay’s doors were open for discussions with local fishermen about increasing their supply of locally-sourced fish, and it would
continue to work closely with WWF, “in line with our commitment to only sell sustainable seafood by the end of 2015”.
* Woolworths had not responded by the time of going to press.