Are you eating the fish you ordered? Up to half of the fish is mislabelled in South Africa. Who can we trust?
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.
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 and gives some unethical fisheries a chance for fraud. Illegal fish can get pushed into the market and onto the shelves where it is purchased.
Mislabelling 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.
“There is a high occurrence of mislabelling in South Africa,” Martin states. A study was conducted by Donna Cawthorn from University of Stellenbosch to show 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 practice’ and scored above an 80 on the assessments that revolve around 3 core principle: 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 South Africa’s commercial manager of MSC, Michael Marriott. Chain of Custody accounts for the whole process: from the ship to the shelf.
An independent audit is conducted by a third party to ensure:
- The organization has a management system
- A traceability system is in place
- No substitution of non-certified fish products
- System whereby all certified fish products are identifiable (usually DNA testing)
In organizations where MSC certified fish has the potential to be mixed with non-certified products the staff undergo additional training to ensure that certified products are always separate from the rest. So far, SA Hake fishery is the only MSC certified fishery in South Africa. However, interest is growing along the East and West coast of Africa as increasing consumer awareness is driving fisheries to practise more responsibly.
“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”. Like his forefathers, he dove into the fishing industry. 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.
Three Streams seasonally supplies Woolworths with raw, frozen and deli fish. They have a “high standard of fish and all seafood is traceable and sustainable in the company.” Not only does the farm have a sustainable vision regarding fish, but they also manage their carbon footprint through power reduction, efficient waste management (recycling etc.), alien clearing and re-vegetation and water saving techniques like using recycled water in farming operations.
one of two MSC certified restaurants in Africa
Last year the Salmon Bar became one of two MSC certified restaurants in Africa. They have “collaborated with MSC to transform seafood markets to be sustainable,” says 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 responsibility still lies with the conscious consumer to make the right choice. Consumers hold the power to shift fisheries to practice sustainably.
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, and whether they are MSC certified.
By Soninke Combrinck