Are you eating the fish you ordered? Up to half of the fish is mislabelled in South Africa. Who can we trust?
The traceability of fish is crucial according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a global organization which promotes responsible fishing through a sustainable fishing certification process. Martin Purves, Southern Africa MSC Programme Manager, explained why mislabelling is a risk to both the market and to consumers:
- It presents a health risk to consumers
- It gives some unethical fisheries a chance for fraud, as illegal fish can get pushed into the market and onto the shelves where it is purchased.
- Mislabelling also presents inaccurate data regarding the population status of some fish species.
- Illegal, unregulated and unreported fish find their way to markets, where their low operating costs out-compete responsible fisheries.
Green Times was invited to visit Three Streams Holdings and the Salmon Bar restaurant in the picturesque town of Franschhoek. The event was arranged by the Marine Stewardship Council of South Africa to express the importance of traceability in fisheries.
“There is a high occurrence of mislabelling in South Africa,” Martin states. A study was conducted by Donna Cawthorn from University of Stellenbosch to investigate what percentages of fish in four South African provinces are mislabelled.
- 56% of fish in Kwazulu-Natal (mislabelled fish gets pushed across border from Mozambique)
- 31% in Gauteng
- 25% in Western Cape
- 15% in Eastern Cape
Currently 10% of the world’s fisheries are in the MSC programme with more than 20 000 seafood products that are traceable. 86% of these fisheries are ‘best practise’ and scored above 80 on the assessments that revolve around 3 core principles: stock status, impact on the ecosystem and effective management.
They also require a functioning chain of custody system.
“We need to be sure it is traceable through the supply chain,” says Marriott. Chain of Custody (CoC) accounts for the whole process: from the ship to the shelf.
He explained it as follows:
- “For a consumer product to carry the blue MSC ecolabel, all supply chain companies who have taken ownership of the fish in that product will have to have a valid CoC certificate. This includes traders, processors, importers or distributors etc, up to the point where the fish is packaged into its final consumer packaging (can, box, jar etc). This holds true even if a company has only owned it on paper and has not taken physical possession. If at any stage this chain is broken – i.e. one of the companies does not have a valid CoC certificate or has sourced from a company without a CoC certificate for that species – the product can still be traded, but will lose the MSC ecolabel.
- Each company undergoes its own CoC assessment, which is conducted by trained certifiers who are accredited to undertake MSC audits. Many companies handle both certified and non-certified products. The auditors must review both the physical processes and the paper trail to ensure that no mixing can reasonably occur and that any product can be traced back to their input source (i.e. they must demonstrate traceability in their own systems and processes to the satisfaction of the auditor). This audit is conducted annually. Once certified they are awarded a certificate and a unique CoC code.
- When the ecolabel is applied to a product it must be accompanied by the CoC code of the final processor. All these codes can be searched on our website, so consumers will be able to see which company packaged the product.
- To go further back than this requires a full trace-back, which is more in-depth and not linked only to the CoC code. While the code can identify the packing company, an auditor will need to use the batch code/date stamp etc. to follow the path of the product back through that company’s paperwork. They will then use necessary invoices, pallet slips to determine the source of that particular consignment, then follow up with the supply company in a similar way and so forth, back to the source fishery.
- The MSC uses DNA testing and spot audits as a means of reducing risk, by adding to the checks and balances that are already in place. These tests cannot be done for all products all of the time, but through risk analysis the MSC is able to identify where issues are most likely to occur. For most CoC holders it is not worth being caught making false claims and these extra checks add to the integrity of the whole programme.”
“Three Streams has a value chain that traces fish from egg to plate.” Gregg Stubbs, CEO of Three Streams, recognized at a young age that “we cannot carry on fishing the way we do”. Now the proud owner of Three Streams Trout Farm and Smokehouse, he understands the need to run a responsible and sustainable fishing operation.
By 2050 there will be 9 billion people living on the planet, and Gregg foresees the demand this will place on fisheries. He also recognizes that fish are an important source of protein and people will not refrain from this source of food.
“The future is in farming, as wild capture has stagnated at 95 million tonnes of fish per year.”
Three Streams hatchery spawns between three hundred and four hundred thousand juveniles every two months. These are all fed the highest quality food imported from Europe to ensure a 0.7:1 food conversion ratio. This means that for every 0.7kg put in, you get 1kg out.
Last year the Salmon Bar became the second MSC certified restaurant in Africa, after the Shoreline Cafe at Two Oceans Aquarium. The Salmon Bar has “collaborated with MSC to transform seafood markets to be sustainable,” said Martin. This proactive approach has earned them the eco-label as a restaurant that sources responsibly. “If it is not an MSC labelled product, it is still from a sustainable source,” clarifies Gregg. Operating on the principles people, profit, product and planet Gregg says, “Our whole philosophy around the earth is that we are custodians for our children’s children.”
We hope to see a rise in certified restaurants and fisheries. The power still lies with the conscious consumer to make the right choice. So what do we, as fish consumers, have to look out for to ensure we only eat fish from an ethical source?
Check to see that the fish you purchase at a retail store has the blue MSC ecolabel on the package.
When eating at a restaurant, ask your waiter who their fish supplier is. Ask if are they MSC certified and if can they bring you proof. You can follow this up by consulting the MSC website to search for certified fisheries.
Do not forget the SASSI status. SMS 079 499 8795 to verify the status of your fish, and eat only green.
By Soninke Combrinck