Locally sourced mussels are a green seafood choice.
Locally sourced mussels are a green seafood choice.
Image: 123RF / Jacek Nowak

Seafood feels like summer food. And a heap of prawns on a braai - or in any other form really - is the crown jewel of summer holiday celebration meals, featuring prominently on so many Old Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day tables.

Sadly, they’re pretty much the worst seafood decision – along with most farmed salmon – that we can make, and yet our largely unworried consumption of the critters continues, at gross volumes, almost unabated. Which is why it’s time for my regular prawn reminder!! With food waste increasingly identified as a massive part of our problems, the story of most prawns is really not something you want anywhere near a celebratory table (and in fact, bad farming has made much of the meat so mealy and awful that purely from a gastronomic point of view, you might be better off avoiding them).

While there’s increasing pressure for fisheries to improve on the green front, and some are managing relatively ‘clean’ harvesting, many fisheries still create a by-catch figure that can only be described as grotesque: in some instances, the by-catch (the non-targeted marine-life caught in the nets) far outweighs the prawns themselves, by up to ten times or even more. What is done with these dead or injured creatures – turtles, sea-birds, other marine mammals and fish – depends on the protocols of a particular fishery. Some might be used to feed farmed fish or, ironically, farmed prawns, much will be discarded.

Bad farming has made much of the meat so mealy and awful that purely from a gastronomic point of view, you might be better off avoiding them

The trawling methods which unselectively capture all this sea-life are also responsible for destroying ocean beds as they scour the bottom like a giant bulldozer. Trouble is, the average fishmonger or restaurant usually has no clue about whether their prawns are from better or worse scenarios.

Farmed prawns come with their own set of unhappy issues. Prawn farming is highly polluting, and wetlands continue to be devastated through this aquaculture, with an estimated 3-million hectares of sensitive wetland globally already lost to this aquaculture. There are farms which are far less destructive, but again, few end-point sellers know the details.

Retailers are making it easier, with MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) labelling, but there seem to be good reasons to view MSC labelling with scepticism. Considering the dual problems around global food waste and the crisis resulting from destruction of marine biodiversity, a meal of prawns (unless sources are very well checked) is no cause for celebration.       

CONSIDER THIS …

SASSI  

The South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative is a remarkable organization, working together with WWF, fishing companies large and small, retailer’s government bodies, marine scientists and others to effect positive change. Go to their website for more info.

ABALOBI

Visit Abalobi to download the app and check out the fantastic work being done by this group to redress injustice to small scale fisheries coupled with marine stewardship. Their human-rights based approach to fisheries deserves huge support.

THE ALTERNATIVES

The good news! Local, traceable trout & mussels are two of the greenest seafood choices you can make. Usually more reasonable than prawns (or salmon), these are happier fishy dishes to bring in the New Year. Smoked trout is available at most supermarkets (though check the provenance), and incredibly fresh Saldanha Bay mussels are available by the box from La Marina in Modderfontein. One box will serve about ten people (who should be roped in to help you scrub and de-beard). 

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