Abalobi, a super fresh and sustainable new seafood initiative
The charming and sophisticated Bistro Sixteen82 carries a resounding reputation as one of Cape Town’s finer restaurants, where the food is always exceptional and the setting elegant and trendy, making it the perfect leisurely lunch or romantic dinner spot. It’s the restaurant Capetonians go to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions, not only because of its high calibre but also because it’s surprisingly affordable.
Now, Bistro Sixteen82 can add “environmentally conscious” to its long list of desirable attributes as it adopts a trail-blazing responsible fishing initiative called ABALOBI.
A broken system
Cape Town is a city embraced by oceans on all sides and, consequently, seafood has become a mainstay of the restaurant scene – from rickety take-out fish-and-chip shops to fine dining establishments (and everything in between). And yet, while you may sit no more than a stone’s throw from the ocean at any one of these restaurants, chances are the seafood on your plate has travelled hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres to get there.
If the catch is not shipped in from elsewhere in the world – think Patagonian calamari or tuna from the Pacific – then it has had to make its way from our local harbours to the processing plant and from there to an often long line of distributors before finally arriving at the restaurant, several days or even weeks later. In many cases, the fish is frozen first to preserve it. All of these middlemen take their cut, leaving local fishermen with paltry pay for their catch and, consequently, they need to bring in more just to break even.
When you pay manufacturers, processors, and distributors more for fish than the fisher folk that caught it, there is something terribly wrong with the system. This is what ABALOBI, a non-profit community driven initiative, seeks to address.
“From Hook to Cook” – the ABALOBI Initiative
Their names are Marthinus Newman “Oom T” and Petrus Groenewald “Oom Peettie”, and they’re both small-scale fishermen that hail from a long line of traditional fisher folk who make their living off the ocean.
These are the men who were responsible for putting the delicious and ridiculously fresh yellowtail steak on my plate, and I know this because of ABALOBI, the isiXhosa word for “small-scale fisher”. I also know that Oom T’s boat is called Weltevrede, that he has been its skipper for 43 years, and that he and his family were displaced from their original home in Skipskop by the ruthless Apartheid regime, which is how they came to live in Struisbaai.
By directly connecting these fisher folk with Cape Town’s restaurants, the ABALOBI app bypasses the middlemen and all of their costs and enables these hard-working individuals to receive full price for their catch – a number that is exponentially more than what they used to get by selling to distributers. Consequently, they don’t need to haul in an enormous amount of fish to make ends meet.
“Fishing is a part of my heritage and traditions,” says Oom T. “It is our responsibility to conserve our fish, to ensure that the next generations can catch the same amount we catch.”
How does it work?
The ABALOBI app is super simple to use and enables you to scan a QR code supplied by the restaurant, either with your meal or upon arrival. Once scanned, it takes you to the relevant, corresponding internet page that opens up a world of information about the fisher folk who caught your meal, as well the communities in which they live.
From their names and portrait to their family history, fishing community, quotes, and even the name of their boat… the app tells a story about the origins of your seafood and the people who strike out every day to put food on their table and yours. There’s also a wealth of information on the seafood itself, and it all contributes to the education of the diner and their appreciation for the toil that goes into the meal.
“I see the sea as part of me, part of my life, my past and my future, and I cannot imagine a life without the sea. It is the most important part of my life,” says Oom Peettie who’s from Struisbaai and has been fishing for 39 years.
ABALOBI empowers these fisher folk and the fishing communities that the rest of us so love to visit, while promoting a traditional way of life that has a low impact on our marine life. This enables us to enjoy the fruits of our oceans in a sustainable, responsible way.
Another way ABALOBI is relieving pressure on marine life is by opening our eyes and stomachs to new and interesting food fish – whatever the fisher folk catch they sell to the restaurants, which keeps chefs on their toes and creative with their menus.
“We promote an ecosystem approach to fisheries, where small-scale fishers responsibly harvest a basket of marine resources – in other words, not just one fish species – using low environmental impact fishing methods. This spreads effort across the ecosystem and brings under-represented species to the table.” – Dr Serge Raemaekers, co-founder and project director of ABALOBI.
The only question remaining is why more of Cape Town’s restaurants aren’t on board with ABALOBI yet. According to Chef Kerry Kilpin of Bistro Sixteen82, while ABALOBI has been in development for several years, there are still many kinks to be ironed out. Arranging transport from the fishing villages to the restaurant’s door is one; another is getting chefs accustomed to working with a variable catch. It could be considered “easier” just to get a consistent order filled by a distributor – but that doesn’t support sustainable fishing practices, and it certainly doesn’t rival the freshness of seafood that was harvested from the ocean that same morning.
Seafood with a story
ABALOBI essentially puts a face to the seafood on your plate, and through their fantastic, content-rich app, restaurant-goers can discover the incredible story behind their meal. By supporting this ground-breaking initiative, Bistro Sixteen82 is empowering small-scale fishers, protecting the culture of our quaint fishing villages, delivering incredibly fresh and delicious seafood to its patrons, and doing its bit to protect the sensitive marine environment from ruthless overfishing.
Combine all of the above with a beautiful restaurant, mouth-watering food prepared by talented Chef Kerry Kilpin, and – how could we forget? – Steenberg estate’s exceptional wines and you couldn’t find a better way to enjoy a lunch or dinner.
“Thank you for supporting the livelihoods of fishers who have a relationship with the sea – the sea that feeds us, the sea that heals us, the sea that is the core of our lives.” – Oom Peettie