They say there are plenty of fish in the sea. Not true. As South Africa’s largest chain of seafood restaurants the Ocean Basket Group is well aware of the environmental impact fishing and aquaculture activities have on our marine ecosystems and is determined to tackle the issue head-on.
Centuries of over-exploitation of our most precious resource has had a heavy hand on our oceans. In some waters, the global demand for seafood and fish has literally driven once flourishing species to the brink of collapse. Scientists report the earliest overfishing occurred in the early 1800s when humans, seeking blubber for lamp oil, decimated an entire whale population. The following century saw Atlantic cod and herring harvested close to the brink of extinction. Now, in the 21st century, man has felt the impact of an ever-dwindling fish population. Commercial fleets are forced to venture deeper in the ocean for viable catches and these catches are costing consumers far more than they ever have before.
"When one looks at the figures it's clear that this is a massive and global problem. The Food & Agricultural Organisation reports that an astonishing 80 percent of global fish stocks are being fished either at or above sustainable levels. This is also evident in South African waters. Because of the different sectors targeting our resources and the many different methods used to catch fish, our fish stocks simply cannot replenish themselves fast enough," says Grace Harding of Ocean Basket. "Solving the problem is a longstanding challenge that requires a clear ethical commitment. We believe that supporting well-managed fisheries and aquaculture operations is critical not only in order to build a sustainable business model, but also to foster the long-term health of marine ecosystems, species and livelihoods."
Ocean Basket - with its 175 franchised outlets (of which 21 are international) and commanding a 60% market share within its niche - has pledged to support and promote sustainable seafood choices. They aim to create market driven incentives to catalyse change at sea; to protect all stakeholders as well as the environment by ensuring their suppliers provide legal and traceable products from sustainable and responsibly managed sources; and enable consumers to make informed decisions about their seafood choices.
Seafood sourcing experts Pedro de Sambento and Roelof Brinkfrom Ocean Basket are continuously working with SASSI to ensure sustainable sourcing of seafood.
In line with these beliefs, Ocean Basket commits to ensuring that by 2017 the Group only sell wild-capture seafood and fish products that are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), or categorised as Green by WWF-SA’s Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-SASSI), or sourced from fisheries that are actively engaged in credible, time-bound improvement projects.
"In co-operation with World Wildlife Fund, Ocean Basket will determine the credibility of these improvement projects on a case-by-case basis and will provide guidance to fisheries/aquaculture facilities as to what constitutes a credible, time-bound improvement project," explains Harding. "We are also aware that the ASC certification may not be developed for all aquaculture species that it procures by 2020. Therefore, as a minimum requirement, all applicable source aquaculture operations from which Ocean Basket procures (either directly or indirectly) will be required to formally commit to achieving the ASC certification by this date (for species that the ASC standard is not applicable to, the source industry is required to be on the WWF-SASSI Green list or be formally implementing steps towards achieving WWF-SASSI green list status)."
While Ocean Basket's partnership with WWF-SASSI is set to reel in change for our oceans will it impact customers and if so, how?
"A key ingredient to the success of Ocean Basket is that we control the quality of ingredients centrally. This way we can check that everything that is used is of the utmost quality, especially if there are shortages in specific areas. We pride ourselves on the relaxed culture of all of our restaurants, where customers feel at ease. Portions are generous and consumers know that when they eat at Ocean Basket they’ll have a great time out and also get real value for money," explains Harding. "Ocean Basket's restaurant model is premised on bringing seafood (previously the preserve of the chic) to the man in the street. It achieves this by having a simple, focused menu removed of all frills and an obsession with generosity and a warm and welcoming environment. By removing the frills associated with ‘silver service’ it found a gap to reduce margins for the consumer. In addition, through clever product sourcing and its simple business model, affordable meals such as sushi and prawns have acquired mass appeal in South Africa - and now elsewhere. Just as strongly as we believe in bringing affordability to our customers, we also believe that our customers have a right to sufficient and accurate information through adequate labelling in order to be able to make environmentally responsible choices. As such Ocean Basket will ensure that by the end of 2014 the following species information is publicly available in store for all our seafood & fish products sold: common and scientific species name, country of origin or FAO Catch area, and catch method (fishing gear used) or farming method (production system used)."
Ocean Basket is also involved in the education of children together with the Two Oceans Aquarium, Adopt a School programme.