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The recent move by seafood giant I&J to transform its fishing operations has drawn mixed responses from conservation groups.
The company last month demonstrated its commitment to the environment by signing a participation agreement with the WWF-SA Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-Sassi).
According to its website, Sassi was initiated by WWF South Africa in collaboration with other networking partners in November 2004 to inform and educate all participants in the seafood trade, from wholesalers to restaurateurs through to seafood lovers.
The initiative makes pocket-sized guides on which seafood is best to eat in terms of its stocks and the different types of fish. And seafoods are divided into three categories: green (best choice), orange (think twice) and red (don’t buy).
“These sustainability goals are a clear statement of intent by I&J to drive positive change by formalising the company’s commitment to sustainable fishing practices and meeting hard and fast targets,” said Ronald Fasol, CEO of I&J.
The agreement represents a formal commitment to sustainable seafood by I&J, which will work with the conservation organisation towards the goal of ensuring that, by December 2015, the fishing company will only sell seafood products that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for wild capture species (the world’s leading eco-label for wild caught seafood) or certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council for species originating from aquaculture operations (the newly launched eco-label for responsible aquaculture production) or; green-listed by WWF-Sassi; or the subject of a time-bound fishery improvement project or by-catch management plan as approved by WWF-SA.
William Steenkamp, commercial director of the company, said that they were a “hake-directed” fishing company because trawled hake – according to Sassi – was green-listed.
“The main transformation will be on our procurement side. However, we are in the process of training all staff in sustainability practices (these include sea-going crew, procurement, marketing and sales departments).”
He said that as a procurer of seafood worldwide, the company was playing a role in affecting the sustainability practices of those companies they dealt with by requiring them to comply with their sustainability policy.
He said that the company’s current hake quota was 40 000 tons per annum, plus concomitant bycatch.
Lionel Adendorf, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that they welcomed any initiative that led to more sustainable fishing and were supportive of Sassi.
“It heightens public awareness when a major fishing company signs an important agreement such as this.”
Adendorf said that the department monitored a significant percentage of all commercial landings and collected scientific catch in all the major fisheries, which were used for stock assessments in most fisheries.
“We consider most of our most valuable resources to be well-managed.
“Our most valuable species, the two hakes, recovered significantly as a result of a good operational management procedure.
“We also have these procedures in place for the South Coast rock lobster, West Coast rock lobster and the pelagic fishery, which focuses mainly on anchovy and sardine.
“We still have stock rebuilding initiatives for hake, West Coast rock lobster and abalone, which are integrated with our procedures for those species.”
Bianca McKelvey, conservation manager of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa KZN region, said that her organisation always fully endorsed informed choice by consumers and suppliers.
“Not only are our fisheries under enormous pressure to provide us with food, but our sensitive estuaries are being unsustainably developed and polluted.
“This means that our nursery grounds for the very fish that we catch for food or recreation are becoming increasingly unhealthy, and less able to provide the habitat for our fish stocks to replenish themselves.”
She said that the fishing industry should certainly be supported in the steps it takes to self-regulate.
“I&J’s commitments to sustainable seafood must be applauded, and will help to protect not only the fish stocks, but the livelihoods that depend on our precious marine resources.
“We can only hope that others in the industry will follow their lead.”
Desmond D’sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, was not as impressed.
“2015 is too late. Why not now?” he asked.
He said that the government and scientists had been very vocal about certain species being under pressure, but took very little action.
“These species, in particular, are those that subsistence fisher folks catch with a rod on our coastline.
“While we acknowledge this commitment, why was this action not done sooner, because the major transnational fishing corporations are directly responsible for the depletion of fishing stocks, and also the extinction of certain species no longer seen on our coastline?”