Governments’ efforts to transform the fisheries sector in South Africa
30 Aug 2016
Over the course of the past few months it has been reported in various media that a recent decision of the Department’s Chief Director of Fisheries Research and Development to issue an experimental horse mackerel permit to Global Pact Trading 193 (Pty) Ltd is, inter alia, a threat to the health and sustainability of South Africa’s high value horse mackerel fishery; that it is an illegal scheme to allocate an R80 million “fishing right” through the proverbial "back door" to some dubious company and is akin to Global Pact 193 (Pty) Ltd and has nothing to do with any form of experiment.
The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is presently before the Western Cape High Court defending a review application which was brought by a number of operators in the commercial horse mackerel and hake trawl fisheries, together with the two industry bodies that represents the trawl and mid-water trawl fishery sectors.
The Minister is of the firm belief that the review application brought by the South African fishing industry will fail. It is not the intention of the Minister to ventilate the State’s case in the media; as this would be inappropriate but given that there has been a significant amount of public interest in the matter, we believe it prudent to highlight the legality of the decision to allow the experiment.
Firstly, the experiment itself seeks to not only determine more precisely the exact size, distribution and value of the South African horse mackerel fishery, but it importantly seeks to determine whether the South African consumer - and particularly those consumers in remote rural provinces who have little access to protein sources - is prepared to consume horse mackerel.
It has been an historic trend of our fishery to harvest our horse mackerel and then to export almost all fish harvested to countries like Angola; Benin; DRC; Ghana; Nigeria and Togo without further benefaction on SA soil, and therefore with little to no job creation in SA.
In 2005, the South African government adopted a policy position which advocated the landing and processing of horse mackerel for human consumption in South Africa. Unfortunately, our commercial industry elected to ignore this important policy provision for the duration of the 10 year commercial fishing period.
In 2012, Global Pact 193 (Pty) Ltd approached the department as entrepreneurs and investors are entitled and encouraged to do in terms of Section 83 of the Marine Living Resources Act, read with the department’s Policy for the establishment of new fisheries in South Africa.
Global Pact’s proposal sought to not only assist the department understand more comprehensively the size and extent of the South African horse mackerel stock (particularly on the West Coast where the commercial fishery does not operate), but also proposed to land horse mackerel in South African ports, create jobs and sell horse mackerel products domestically for local consumption.
Secondly, much has been made about the fact that the department allocated Global Pact 8,000 tons of horse mackerel fish worth a whopping R80 million. To many a lay person this would sound like an extraordinary “gift”.
However, part of the reason why the South African government has not been able to fully appreciate and understand the exact size, extent and value of the fishery has been because of the massive financial investments that are required to undertake such a project.
Unlike most other fish species that can be easily researched and studied via annual vessel surveys, horse mackerel swim in the mid-water column and the SA government’s premier research vessel, the Africana, is geared to undertake surveys of fish that either swim near the bottom of the ocean (demersal) or near the surface (pelagic). The size of our horse mackerel fishery; being semi-pelagic were - it is strongly believed - being underestimated as a result. Between 2004 and 2012 there were numerous attempts to secure industry funding or private assistance to undertake the survey but none succeeded.
What was needed was a dedicated experiment with a dedicated mid-water trawler. The average mid-water trawler costs in excess of R100, 000/ day to operate. Annual costs to harvest 8000 tons and undertake the experiment could be in the vicinity of R70-R75 million. It is therefore disingenuous for the commercial fishing industry, who fully appreciates the substantial costs and risks of undertaking such a venture, to falsely create the impression that this experiment is some or other financial windfall for Global Pact Trading 193 (Pty) Ltd.
Thirdly, there is no threat posed to the South African horse mackerel fishing stock by allocating an amount of 8000 tons for this experimental project. The South African horse mackerel fishery is entitled to harvest approximately 40,000 tons of horse mackerel. Over and above this, there are by-catch or incidental catch allowances exceeding 20,000 tons annually. No one has the right to harvest by-catch. Accordingly, the 8,000 ton allowance is more than adequately accommodated within this tolerance reserve.
Finally, if South Africa is seriously committed to sustainably growing its commercial fisheries (as opposed to continually dividing existing quotas into smaller and smaller quota allotments to more and more operators), we are duty-bound to encourage investors and entrepreneurs to invest in fisheries research and experimentation in partnership with the DAFF.
If we fail to do so, our commercial fisheries will be doomed to contraction, overfishing and eventual decimation. The sustainable and responsible expansion of our fisheries economy is in alignment with governments National Development Plan and Operation Phakisa.
The results of the experiment if positive; will undoubtedly change the way South Africa fishes for, processes and markets its horse mackerel. This is perhaps what the SA commercial horse mackerel fishing industry fears the most as it will almost certainly remove the current hegemonic structure of the industry.
Statement issued by Bomikazi Molapo, Spokesperson for the Minister, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 30 August 2016