Fresh fish from the sea to the table

Abalobi co-founder, Dr Serge Raemaekers, with Bistro Sixteen82 chef, Kerry Kilpin.

From hook to cook, fresh fish from sea to table, buying fish can be intimidating.

You want to know if the fish you buy is sustainable, that it’s fresh and healthy but you don’t know how to go about it.

Steenberg’s Bistro Sixteen82 recently hosted the launch of a non-profit community-driven initiative called Abalobi – the isiXhosa word for small-scale fisher.

Abalobi co-founder Dr Serge Raemaekers, from Noordhoek, says the idea is to roll out the Abalobi app in Kalk Bay and Hout Bay but at present about 100 small-scale fishers from Lambert’s Bay to Struisbaai are using it.

Nico Waldeck is the other co-founder and one of seven children from a fisher family living in Lambert’s Bay.

This father of two said through using Abalobi, fishers get a better price for their fish and are better able to support their families. And the direct route from boat to plate ensures sustainability, both for the fisherfolk and for the resource.

Dr Raemaekers came to South Africa 14 years ago to study fishery science and to surf. He worked closely with traditional small-scale fishers gaining valuable insight into their lives, customs and their knowledge of the sea and its ecology.

“These fishers have salt water running through their veins and hold an immense potential for ocean stewardship as the ultimate observers,” he said at the launch.

Dr Raemaekers said consumers were more aware about the fish they bought through the WWF-Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) but he wanted to take this one step further.

Abalobi was born out of brainstorming sessions between UCT researchers, the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and several small-scale fisher community representatives.

Still in its pilot phase, Abalobi helps get a price for their catch and connect with chefs while also informing consumers about who caught their fish, where and how.

Bistro Sixteen82 chef, Kerry Kilpin, said she had been ordering fish from Abalobi since December.

“The fish is fresher, firmer, easier to work with and doesn’t have that strong fishy smell,” she said.

Holding a plate of Cape bream used in the carpaccio dish and accompanied by Steenberg’s Black Swan sauvignon blanc, she said the flesh would not be as pink if it was not so fresh.

“The app has received an amazing reception from customers who love the interaction and the stories of the fishers and knowing the fish was caught that morning,” she said.

Dr Raemaekers said chefs use the Abalobi website to see what was available in the marketplace. They make an EFT payment which goes directly to the fisher who in turn arranges for the fish to be delivered.

“The seafood is caught with low environmental impact, using traditional methods,” said Dr Raemaekers.

Artisanal fisher, Wilfred Consalves expressed excitement about the project, saying fishers could now sell for three times what they got before.

With no insurance on his engines and boat and no credit facilities, he said it was difficult to access finance. Now they had a more reliable income and could plan for difficult fishing days and family finances.

They were also providing input on fishing trends.

“We’re seeing far more sunfish, 20 to 30 a day. And whales, they come into the harbour at Lambert’s Bay. This is the first year we’re seeing them jump out of the water,” he said.

The app is easily accessible on a smartphone. Download the QR Scan, ask the waiter for fish of the day, see if the fish has special status and then read about the fisher who caught it, about his life and where he lives.

Visit www.abalobi.org, www.facebook.com/abalobi.org or follow @abalobi_app on Twitter and Instagram.