The bokkom controversy – a cautionary tale
November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized
This is the beautiful Liza richardsonii, the fish used to make bokkoms, depicted here on a faded and clearly outdated WWF poster listing sustainable fish options which I snapped on my visit to Victoriabaai a few weeks back.
Sadly this handsome little pisces recently became the subject of much debate (and despair in my case) because of the discovery that SASSI lists it as an unsustainable species. You might remember that I reported on it in my Spaghetti del Mare recipe not too long ago.
Well, I finally seem to have gotten to the bottom of this slippery issue. Unfortunately the outcome is not quite for the better for bokkom lovers, but hopefully it will be to the advantage of the southern mullet.
After a very nice chat and some (initially lost in cyberspace) email correspondence, this is SASSI’s response:
Sorry for not getting back to you, for some reason your first email ended up in my Spam folder. I did try to post an answer on your blog but it just kept timing out, I’m not sure if this was because my post was too long but I tried about 5 times and then gave up and just posted it to Jamie’s blog here(http://aficionado.co.za/jamiewho/2010/11/10/gaaitjie-restaurant-review-and-some-debate-over-sassi/).
In terms of whether you should continue to use mullet, I would recommend that where possible use green-listed options like maasbanker or even sardines if possible. Once the mullet assessment has been finalised, we will be able to give you more specific advice on this species.
We are in the process of updating the SMS database and I will also put the same answer up on our Facebook profile. Sorry for the confusion, but please understand that mullet may still end up being Red-listed but our mistake was adding it to the SMS database before the assessment has been finalised, it is not a matter of the information being incorrect but more that we are waiting on our review panel to look over the assessment before it is finalised. There are hundreds of species on the market and we are trying to get round to assessing each of them thoroughly with the help of appropriate experts but this will take some time, please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.
The initial, more detailed response to my original email (posted on Jamie Who’s blog), is as follows:
“The most important thing to understand is that with the recent update of the SASSI list, the Red list no longer only contains ‘no-sale’ species which are illegal to sell but it also contains the least sustainable legal species (For more info on this process, have a look at the SASSI website here http://www.wwfsassi.co.za/?m=6&s=1&idkey=1163). Thus it is important to realize that while they are definitely not the most sustainable option, not all Red-listed species are actually illegal to sell.
In answer to the issues around the bokkoms in particular, we are currently busy completing the assessment for Southern mullet (Liza richardsoni) which is normally the species used to make bokkoms. The draft assessment has indicated that there are a number of environmental concerns around the ecological impacts of the beach seine and estuarine gill net fisheries in which this species is caught, including high levels of bycatch of vulnerable linefish species such as white steenbras (which is a Red-listed no-sale species) as well as juvenile mullet. There are also concerns around the current levels of illegal fishing in these fisheries. However, as I mentioned, the assessment is still in draft format and has not been finalized so it should not yet be listed with a colour on our FishMS system, it is a mistake that must have slipped through our net while we were updating the FishMS system and we are rectifying it to make sure that consumers are getting the right information with which to make their dining choices. Once the assessment is finalized, we will put it back up on the FishMS system with the relevant colour coding.
Lastly, in answer to the issue of how a species like our local hake can be certified as sustainable by the MSC while species from our small-scale local fisheries are Red-listed. It is important to understand that in order to gain MSC certification a fishery has to meet very specific criteria in terms of sustainability and the fishery is regularly audited against these criteria to ensure that it is meeting them. Thus the MSC logo is really the most reliable way for consumers to know that they are making a sustainable choice. MSC certification is open to any fishery that would like to apply, although it does have costs associated with it, which can make it difficult for smaller operators to get certified even if their practices are actually sustainable. However, it is not always true that small-scale fisheries are more sustainable than large-scale industrial fisheries and it is important to look at each species on a case-by-case basis. Due to the ease of access to the resources, many small-scale fisheries suffer from high levels of illegal fishing, in South Africa this is one of the reasons for the collapse of inshore resources such as abalone and many linefish species.
Sorry for the long post, I hope this clears up your questions and once again I apologise for the mistake. For now, the best thing I can suggest is that as a consumer, you need to be communicating to your seafood supplier, whether they are a small-scale fisherman or restaurant or the local retailer, that sustainability is important and it’s up to all of us to ensure that we are only dealing in sustainable seafood products…”
Yours in responsible, sustainable eating (and fishing),
Sardines on Toast.
PS. Be sure to join the SASSI page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SASSI/269064825146