Cape Town. 080624. Houtbay fishermen had their hands full with hundreds of Snoek after another good day at sea. Picture Henk Kruger

Cape Town - A concerted effort is under way to develop a standardised list of seafood names to make it easier for consumers to know what they are buying.

It has emerged that up to half of all snoek sold at retailers is caught in New Zealand. Most of the calamari consumed in South Africa is imported from the Falklands and China, and most of the calamari harvested here is exported to Italy. The country also imports most of its anchovies for human consumption as anchovies caught here are turned into fishmeal, says John Duncan of the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa.

WWF has started the ball rolling by meeting the industry to standardise the names of seafood, so that consumers can know exactly what they are eating, where it is from and whether or not it is from a sustainable source.

According to a WWF report on developing a standardised list of common trade names, a study showed that up to 50 percent of sampled fillets were mislabelled, with market substitution occurring mostly at wholesale level with imported products.

Junaid Francis, seafood industry liaison officer for WWF-SA’s Biodiversity Unit, Sustainable Fisheries Programme, said the fraudulent labelling or the misrepresentation of seafood products had taken many forms, including erroneously representing a species as a more commercially valuable species for financial gain, labelling a foreign species as a similar to local species to ease the risk of unfamiliarity, misrepresenting toxic or endangered species as more commonly acceptable species, as well as providing broad generic labels to a group of fish such as “red fish” or “linefish”.

“Misrepresentation of seafood products not only denies consumers their right to make an informed decision and potentially adds a price premium to commonly available species, but it also poses a potential health risk by failing to identify toxic or allergenic species properly, as well as undermining the efforts made by consumer awareness campaigns to direct consumers to sustainably sourced seafood,” Francis said.

WWF-SA is meeting the national regulator for compulsory specifications, importer and exporter associations, retailers and the consumer goods council to get everyone working together in coming up with standardised names. The list aims to essentially provide each traded seafood species or species group with common names, with the hope of standardising the marketing of seafood across South Africa and making it easier for consumers to make informed purchases. - Cape Argus