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The continuing demand for seafood is fuelling a global exploitation of seafood resources with devastating effects on our fragile marine ecosystems. More and more, there is a massive call from projects like The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) for consumers, retailers, and restaurants alike to make more responsible choices and to play their part.

In March 2014, Ocean Basket publicly announced its commitment to sustainable and responsible fishing. The popular restaurant chain promised that by 2017 it will only serve seafood and fish products that are sourced from responsible fisheries, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for wild caught, and ASC for Aquaculture species, or categorised as Green by SASSI.

“Overfishing is an enormous environmental issue. It’s real. It’s here. We can’t claim to love our oceans and then close our eyes and continue to overfish them. We do love our oceans and we’re doing everything we can to protect them.” says Ocean Basket Company Leader Grace Harding.

Ocean Basket takes the necessary steps to ensure that its suppliers provide legal and traceable products from responsibly managed sources. While wild stocks rapidly decline, the demand for farmed seafood and fish is on the rise. Aquaculture (also known as aquafarming) is playing an increasingly significant role in boosting global fish production, and in meeting rising global demands for both seawater and freshwater fish.

One example of the increasing dependence on aquaculture is the Pangasius fish, or ‘Basa’.  A medium to large catfish native to freshwater in South and Southeast Asia, Basa is currently the tenth most popular fish product eaten in the United States. Ocean Basket sources its Basa from the highly accredited Hung Vuong in Vietnam – one the world’s largest Basa producers.

“Basa is a win/win. It’s sustainable, with low to moderate fat content, high levels

of protein, and it’s absolutely delicious.” says Harding. “It’s got a similar taste and texture to Hake. And as with Hake, we can subtly influence and enhance its natural flavours with the ingredients or the cooking method we use. We serve it both grilled, and deep fried in our famous batter.”

Yet although Ocean Basket is clear on its commitment to sustainable fishing, for some it isn’t clear enough. This became evident when a customer lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) in December last year when she and her partner ordered the Platter for 2 featuring mussels, prince prawns, calamari, calamari heads, and Ocean Basket’s ‘Catch of the Day’. She expected to be served seawater fish. Instead, the catch of that particular day at Ocean Basket’s Tygervalley Mall restaurant happened to be Basa.

While it has never claimed to serve seafood exclusively, the brand immediately decided to take action. In its response to the ASA, Ocean Basket proposed to make its commitment to sustainable fishing even clearer by including more detailed product information on its its menus and retraining its staff in all Ocean Basket stores nationwide to highlight the nature of the catch of the day. The ASA accepted.

Harding concludes, “If we don’t listen to our customers, we don’t grow as a brand. We’re on this journey together, and if our customers need additional information and clearer communication, then we work to make sure they have it.”

With its amended menu due to roll out nationally by end March 2015, the Ocean Basket brand continues to stand by its agreement with SASSI while remaining the brand that’s unswervingly dedicated to the happiness of its customers.

“Another win/win,” smiles Harding.