South African retailer says these two species caused the most trouble on the road to sustainability

Published on
June 2, 2016

South African retailer Woolworths has reported significant gains since becoming the region's first grocer to sign the WWF-SASSI Retail Charter in 2013.

The signing of the charter was part of the retailer’s overarching commitment to be able to categorize all of its wild-caught seafood as either WWF-SASSI green-listed, caught from MSC (or equivalent) certified fisheries or WWF-approved species are sourced from fisheries that are undertaking credible, time-bound improvement projects.

Woolworths reported that 92 percent (by volume) of all wild-caught seafood sold in 2015 met the aforementioned criteria, and as of May 2016, that number had risen to to 97 percent.

“We’re proud to have achieved these very challenging goals,” said Woolworths Managing Director of Foods Spencer Sonn in a prepared statement. “It would not have been possible without the involvement and commitment from our suppliers, the fishing industry and our sustainability partners, the WWF-SA through their WWF-SASSI program and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). I take great pride in knowing that Woolies customers can have the peace of mind that the wild-caught seafood products they buy from us have been responsibly sourced.”

“We congratulate Woolworths on the achievement of these significant goals,” said Chris Kastern, WWF-SASSI’s Manager for Seafood Market Transformation. “We recognize the commitment and effort that Woolworths has invested in sourcing sustainable seafood options. They are playing a leading role in creating strong market incentives that drive the South Africa fishing industry towards improved sustainability. This is vital to ensure that key fish stocks continue to be responsibly harvested, that overfished species have the opportunity for recovery, and that vulnerable species are brought back from the brink of collapse.”

The retailer now offers 17 species of sustainably wild-caught seafood, including South African hake caught by long-line fishing, which was WWF-SASSI Green-listed recently. Woolworths has faced the most trouble with kingklip and Mozambican prawns, the retailer said.

Caught in deep water off the South African coast by the hake trawl fishery, the kingklip species was orange-listed by WWF-SASSI. In response, Woolworths has been looking to its partners to “implement a credible, time-bound improvement project,” the company said. With a formal Fishery Conservation Project (FCP) that meets the WWF-SA ‘Fisheries in Transition’ criteria in the works, Woolworths has chosen to keep supporting this fishery in its “efforts to improve the WWF-SASSI outcome of bycatch species rather than remove this species from procurement streams,” the retailer explained.

As far as the Mozambican prawns fishery is concerned, the retailer decided to discontinue sourcing from the fishery. Previously, Woolworths had offered frozen Indian white shrimp (Fenneropenaeus indicus) from the region, but when attempts to engage relevant stakeholders in an improvement project met a dead end, the retailer made the decision to discontinue its offering of the product.

The retailer is now turning its attentions to aquaculture. Woolworths intends to sell aquaculture species that meet the following criteria by the end of 2020:

  • WWF-SASSI Green-listed, or
  • ASC (or equivalent) certified,
  • or from aquaculture operations that are engaged in a credible, time-bound Improvement Project.

“We are making good progress towards meeting these commitments as well,” concluded Sonn. “We achieved another South African ‘first’ with the launch of our ASC-certified farmed tilapia lines last year, and we are looking forward launching more sustainably farmed, and ASC-certified farm fish choices in 2016.”

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