International experts lend scholarly weight to the trawl fishery’s management

The process of reviewing the Operational Management Procedure (OMP) used to manage the South African hake fishery is underway and a panel of international experts has contributed a number of recommendations that will strengthen and improve the review.

The experts – Sean Cox of Canada, Malcolm Haddon of Australia, Daniel Howell of Norway and Andre Punt of the United States – are acknowledged experts in the fields of quantitative fishery science, stock assessment, ecosystem modelling and statistical analysis of data. They led discussion at the International Fisheries Stock Assessment Review Workshop at the University of Cape Town (UCT) late last year. The annual workshop, which is convened by Emeritus Professor Doug Butterworth, head of the Marine Resource Assessment and Management (MARAM) Group at UCT’s Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). It performs a peer review function by providing local fisheries scientists with an opportunity to subject their stock assessment techniques and findings to the scrutiny of international experts in the field.

This year’s workshop focused on the assessment and management of hake, sardine and rock lobster, which are among South Africa’s most valuable fisheries. When considering the management of the hake fishery, the experts made a number of suggestions pertinent to the review of the OMP that is used to manage the fishery.

OMPs are used to manage most of South Africa’s major commercial fisheries. They utilise pre-determined sets of information – such as industry catch records and the results of annual research surveys – and apply a set of pre-determined harvest control rules to recommend an annual total allowable catch (TAC). They are generally revised every three to five years so that they may accommodate changing fishing practices and new knowledge about the behaviour or composition of fish stocks.

The OMP currently used for the South African hake fishery is known as OMP-14 because it was adopted by the Demersal Scientific Working Group of the DAFF in 2014 and has been used to set TACs for all the hake fisheries, including hake deep-sea trawl and hake inshore trawl fisheries. It is currently under review and will be implemented in time to recommend the TACs for the 2019 fishing season.

“The South African trawl fishery for hake is acknowledged as one of the best managed hake fisheries in the world,” said SADSTIA Secretary, Dr Johann Augustyn.

“We welcome the technical expertise and input of the international panel of experts and we are confident that the process of updating the OMP and adopting OMP-18 will further refine the management of the hake fishery.”

The South African hake fishery has been certified as sustainable and well-managed by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2004. It is the only fishery in Africa to have achieved such recognition. The MSC conducts annual surveillance audits of the fishery and is expected to embark on re-assessment of the fishery for a further five years in 2019.

  • The International Review Panel Report for the 2017 International Fisheries Stock Assessment Workshop is available here (technical document).
  • A non-technical summary (PowerPoint presentation) is available here.

Ellen Khuzwayo survey to quantify the impacts of trawling

The South African research vessel Ellen Khuzwayo departed on Monday 22 January from Cape Town on the fifth and final leg of an innovative five-year experiment that is expected to shed light on the contentious subject of trawling and the impact it has on the seabed.

Although bottom trawlers catch at least 20% of global marine fish catches and play an essential role in food security, trawling has been likened to “ploughing the sea floor” and criticised for inflicting irreversible damage on benthic (seabed) ecosystems.

The surveys conducted from the deck of Ellen Khuzwayo over the past five years are expected to provide a scientific view on this issue, particularly as it relates to the South African deep-sea trawling industry, South Africa’s most important commercial fishery.

Deep-sea trawlers target hake on trawl grounds that extend from the Namibian border on the west coast to the extreme eastern part of the Agulhas Bank near Port Elizabeth. Fishing takes place at depths of between 200 and 800m and it is estimated that trawling occurs in an area equivalent to 4.4% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone.

The regularly trawled grounds of “Karbonkel”, located off the coast of the Northern Cape, with an average depth of 400m, were selected for the five-year “Benthic Trawl Experiment” (BTE) which is being implemented collaboratively by a number of partners, including the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA); the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) – which provides the research platform Ellen Khuzwayo; the University of Cape Town (UCT); the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

As chief scientist on the Ellen Khuzwayo, associate professor Colin Attwood of UCT explains that for the purposes of the BTE, the Karbonkel grounds were divided into five clearly defined trawl lanes:

“In the first year, trawlers were able to trawl the entire area, but in subsequent years they were only allowed to trawl in the second and fourth lane. We’re trying to find out if the sea life in the first, third and fifth lane has recovered, using the life in the second and fourth lane as a comparison.”

The researchers are using a sophisticated underwater camera to collect images of the seabed, and at pre-determined locations the crew of the Ellen Khuzwayo has deployed a simple underwater grab that has collected samples of the animals living on or in seabed sediments. A curious collection of crabs, anemones, urchins, brittle stars and worms has been extracted from the sediments of Karbonkel.

“We’re looking at the emergent macrofauna – the big animals that stick out of the sediment, like sea anemones, sea pens, that type of thing, and then there are the animals that live in the sediment itself, like heart urchins and crabs. We’re also looking at the structure of the sediment to see if it is being influenced in any way by repeated trawling,” explained Attwood.

As soon as the Ellen Khuzwayo returns to Cape Town, an intensive analysis of five years of data will begin and the team expects that in two to three months time it will have the information it needs to definitively say, for the first time, what the impacts of trawling are in South Africa.

“The outcome of the experiment is expected to address critical gaps in knowledge of the long-term effects of trawling and the capacity of deep-sea habitats to recover from such impacts,” said Dr Johann Augustyn, secretary of SADSTIA.

Although the BTE is the first experiment of its kind in South Africa, similar experiments have been conducted in other parts of the world and SADSTIA has participated in a ground-breaking international initiative to determine the global impacts of trawling. This study was conducted by a team of 16 researchers who analysed data from trawl fisheries around the globe. They published their results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July last year and determined that the impacts of trawling are highly variable; recovery times for plants and animals disturbed by trawling depend on the type of gear used and a range of environmental variables.

The South African trawl fishery for hake is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling programme for sustainable, wild-caught seafood. Improving knowledge and understanding of the impacts of trawling on the benthic environment is one of the conditions of MSC certification.

Animation captures the dangers of mining marine phosphates

A dredge head with cutting teeth that completely removes a three-metre layer of the seabed. This is the type of machinery that would be deployed if mining for marine phosphates were to go ahead in South Africa.

This animation produced by the Safeguard our Seabed Coalition − of which SADSTIA is a member − provides a clear explanation of what would happen if the Department of Mineral Resources were to give the go-ahead for the mining of marine phosphates.

No other country has permitted bulk sediment seabed mining in its exclusive economic zone and there is a complete lack of information about its impact on marine ecosystems.

The main objective of the Safeguard our Seabed Coalition is to pursue a moratorium, or ban, on marine phosphate mining in South Africa.

International study measures the impact of trawling on the seabed

In contrast to commonly held views that bottom trawling transforms large portions of the seabed into an underwater desert, the impacts are highly variable and recovery times for plants and animals disturbed by trawling depend on the type of gear used and a range of environmental variables.

These are some of the findings of an international study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July. The study was conducted by a team of 16 researchers who analysed data from trawl fisheries around the globe in an attempt to quantify the impacts of trawling.

Bottom trawlers catch at least 20% of global marine fish catches and consequently trawling plays an essential role in providing food for millions of people. In South Africa, deep-sea and inshore trawlers catch approximately 150 000 tons of hake and other deep-sea species per year. The catch is supplied fresh, or processed and packaged, to seafood markets at home and abroad. A number of low value species caught by these fisheries − such as horse mackerel, snoek and angelfish − are a valuable source of good quality animal protein, particularly in the Western Cape.

Data gathered from the South African trawl fishery for hake was utilised in the trawling impacts study, said Johann Augustyn, secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, SADSTIA.

“Most of the data used in the study comes from fisheries in the eastern United States and Western Europe, but we are pleased to have been included in the study,” he said.

“Understanding the ecosystem consequences of trawling is important to SADSTIA because it will help us to work with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to introduce appropriate management measures that will reduce negative impacts on the seabed.”

South African trawlers make use of the “otter trawl” system in which a cone-shaped net is held open by two “otter boards” − more commonly referred to as “trawl doors” − while it is pulled along the seabed by a powerful stern trawler. Hake and other fishes living on or close to the seabed are herded into the net by the disturbance created.

According to the trawling impacts study, out of the four trawl methods analysed, otter trawling causes the least damage to the seabed, removing 6% of plants and animals per drag and penetrating the seabed down to 2.4cm on average, in contrast to hydraulic dredges (used to catch bivalve shellfish like mussels and clams) that penetrate the seabed to 16.1cm and remove 41 percent of plants and animals per drag.

“There’s a common perception that you trawl the bottom and the ecosystem is destroyed,” said Ray Hilborn, Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, United States and one of four co-authors who designed the analysis.
Hilborn was quoted by the University of Washington.

“This study shows that the most common kind of trawling, otter trawling, does not destroy the marine ecosystem, and places that are trawled once a year really won’t be very different from places that are not trawled at all.”
But, says Hilborn, the widespread use of otter trawls means that the footprint of this trawling method is much greater than other trawl methods.

“While otter trawling has the least impact per trawl pass, it is the most widely used of all the bottom fishing gear types and hence its effects are more widespread than are those of more specialized fishing gears, such as hydraulic dredges,” he said.

The study is one part of a larger effort to catalogue the effects of different types of bottom trawling worldwide. This is known as the Trawling Best Practices Project which Hilborn leads with co-authors Michael Kaiser of Bangor University and Simon Jennings of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas in Denmark.

Ultimately, the team aims to publish a set of fishing-industry “best practices” for the methods, equipment, density and frequency of bottom trawling.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, SADSTIA has collaborated with the University of Cape Town, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the South African Environmental Observation Network and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in a five-year study that is using a submersible camera and a benthic grab to closely examine and compare the state of the seabed in three lanes that have been closed to trawling, and two lanes in between them where trawling is allowed.

The seabed experiment enters its fifth and final year in 2018 when a final batch of photographs and samples will be taken. Data analysis and the publication of results will follow.

Read more about the trawl impacts study:

SADSTIA communications manager wins SANCOR award

SADSTIA communications consultant, Claire Attwood, was among seven South African marine scientists, technicians and science communicators to win recognition at the three-yearly South African Marine Science Symposium that was held in Port Elizabeth in July.

Attwood won one of two Marine and Coastal Communicator awards. These awards are made to individuals or groups of individuals in recognition of their outstanding contributions towards communication of information about the marine and coastal environment to the public via various media at various levels.  The awards serves as acknowledgement of, and a symbol of appreciation for, the dedication, enthusiasm and diligence of the such communicators.

The second recipient of the Marine and Coastal Communicator award was Jone Porter, director of education at uShaka Sea World.
Attwood has worked as communications consultant to SADSTIA since 2016. She also works for a number of other companies and organisations, all of which are active in the field of fisheries or marine environmental management. (See citation below.)

“We are proud of Claire’s achievements and happy to be working with a professional of her calibre,” said SADSTIA secretary, Johann Augustyn. “The deep-sea trawling industry is sustainable and internationally competitive and Claire is helping us to communicate some of our successes through a range of local and international media.”

Others who were honoured by the South African Network of Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) at SAMS were:

SANCOR Young Researchers Award
Acknowledges a new generation of scientists and encourages research excellence in science in the marine and coastal environment

  • Dr Sarah Fawcett
  • Dr Romina Henriques

Derek Krige Medal
Awarded in recognition of outstanding achievements in the field of technical support to marine science in South Africa
In memory of the late Mr Barrie Rose

Gilchrist Medal
Awarded to distinguished marine scientists. The medal serves as recognition of the recipient’s contributions to marine science, to further stimulate excellence in marine science and to focus on South Africa’s marine and coastal environments

  • Prof Peter Ryan
  • Prof John J. Bolton

Recipient of the
MARINE AND COASTAL COMMUNICATOR AWARD 2017
Professional Category
Claire Attwood

In recognition of outstanding contributions towards communication of information about the marine and coastal environment to the public. This award serves as an acknowledgement of, and a symbol of appreciation for, the dedication, enthusiasm and diligence of the persons performing such communication.

As an environmental writer/journalist, editor and communications consultant, Claire writes articles on an array of fisheries, aquaculture and fisheries-related issues and produces reviews, reports and copy for various print outlets and programmes. She is also an avid photographer and consults with organizations on their media strategies, within the fisheries and marine conservation sector. In South Africa science communication and pubic engagement is a very small niche with marine communicators being few and far between. Despite this Claire has managed to leave an indelible mark in the area of science communication and public engagement. She has many years of experience as an observer, writer, editor, photographer and journalist in SA fisheries and environmental organizations here and abroad. She has done work in and for countries like Angola, Namibia, Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Bengal and Mauritius to name a few through the various Large Marine Ecosystem programmes. Her expertise is sought after because she has an in-depth understanding of the marine environment coupled with keen insights into the fishing industry, government departments involved with fisheries and policy, fishing companies and their operations and how best to translate complex marine issues to the greater public. Hence her writing, editing, photographing, and graphic designing skills, as well as the ability to develop effective multi-media strategies are impeccable. Additionally, Claire possesses wonderful inter-personal skills and has an extremely good understanding and approach to the human aspects related to fisheries and conservation. She writes well-researched, balanced, high quality, in-depth, perceptive and sometimes passionate pieces. Claire’s writings have extended beyond fisheries related matters into the realm of marine conservation, education resources, training manuals, aquaculture and her outputs are valued and widely utilised by the South African marine science community. She has covered topical and sometime controversial issues through various platforms. She is an extremely professional, committed and talented journalist and science communicator who has played an important role, mostly in the background, by giving an effective voice to those who need to share their messages and viewpoints, be these heads of government departments, CEOs of companies, fisher folk, scientists or fisheries managers. Her writing has helped government departments, fishing industries and other programmes/organisations develop more friendly and open public profiles which has often resulted in communication channels/collaborations being unlocked. She fully deserves to be recognized for the important role she has played as a marine science communicator and for being a great example of quality and professionalism in this field.

SADSTIA elects a new Executive Committee

“The Marine Living Resources Act prescribes the need to restructure the fishing industry to address historical imbalances and to achieve equity within all branches of the industry. The deep-sea trawl fishery is surely on its way to achieve this equity”.

So says newly elected chairman of SADSTIA, Terence Brown, who has announced a radical change in the racial make-up of the SADSTIA Executive Committee (Exco).

“Both the chairman, vice-chairman and the new members of the Exco are from historically disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.

The new members are:

  • Terence Brown, operations director of Sea Harvest
  • Donovan Brickles, group quality assurance manager at I&J
  • Trevor Wilson, shareholder in the Viking Fishing Group of companies
  • Madoda Khumalo, strategic services executive at Sea Harvest.

Arthur Shipalana, a director of ZWM Fishing, Visko See Produkte and Basani Fishing and a long-standing member of the SADSTIA Exco, has retained his position.

Madoda Khumalo will head up SADSTIA’s vitally important Scientific Committee and Johann Augustyn, who was appointed SADSTIA secretary in 2014, will continue to take responsibility for the day-to-day running of Association. Johann is currently working with intern Fisokuhle Mbatha.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be nominated to chair an association with such a rich history,” said Brown.

“SADSTIA has taken many years to transform to the point that its Exco is now reflective of the industry it represents.”

A study completed by the independent empowerment research and ratings agency, Empowerdex, in 2016 revealed that the deep-sea trawl industry is 62.36% black owned. This is in stark contrast to the early 1990s when the industry was dominated by a handful of white-owned conglomerates.

Outgoing SADSTIA chairman, Tim Reddell, who chaired the Association for 15 (non-consecutive) years, echoed Brown’s sentiments, saying:

“We considered it time to hand over the batten of leadership to a new generation of managers that is truly representative of the industry. All of SADSTIA’s members have taken the development of young talent very seriously and the outgoing committee is immensely proud of the calibre of people who have been elected to the Exco. We have no doubt they will work hard to represent the interests of Association’s members.”

SADSTIA is one of the most influential organisations in the local fishing industry, owing to the fact that its 46 members generate approximately 50 percent of the value of South Africa’s fishery production. These companies catch, process and export a range of value-added hake products and also supply a competitive local market with fresh and frozen hake – and crumbed and coated products, like the ever-popular fish finger.

According to Brown, the Association has much work to do.

“The next steps for SADSTIA are to continue to manage the hake resource responsibly,” he said. “We respect the role that the government regulator, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has played to support and maintain the certification of the hake trawl resource by the Marine Stewardship Council. It shows that the co-management approach is working well.”

The South African hake trawl fishery has been certified as sustainable and well-managed by the Marine Stewardship Council − the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable, wild-caught seafood − since 2004. It is the only fishery in Africa to have achieved this accolade.

“Under new leadership, SADSTIA looks forward to maintaining dialogue with DAFF and collaborating so that both industry and government continue to reap the benefits of a sustainable fishery,” said Brown.

“I would also like to see the inclusion and involvement of the Eastern Cape quota holders so that we, as an Association, become more inclusive and ultimately maintain the excellent work done over the past 43 years.”

SADSTIA was founded in 1974, originally with three founder members. It has played a central role in the growth and development of the deep-sea trawl fishery.

Fisokuhle Mbatha, has begun a year long internship with SADSTIA.

The UCT graduate will spend the next 12 months working closely with SADSTIA secretary, Johann Augustyn, gaining as much knowledge about the deep-sea trawling industry and its management as she can.

Fisokuhle took up her position with SADSTIA following a rigorous interview and assessment process that was facilitated by WWF-South Africa. She is one of several young professionals to be placed in appropriate organisations by WWF’s Graduate Internship Programme. The Programme enables young professionals with qualifications in the fields of natural science, law, engineering, business or social science to gain valuable experience, build meaningful networks and contribute to the long-term improvement of the environment.

“SADSTIA was my first choice,” says Fisokuhle who was interviewed by four organisations before being offered an internship with SADSTIA. Her goal is to pursue a career in fisheries management and she is very excited to be working for SADSTIA and in an environment where she comes into contact with the issues and personalities that characterise South Africa’s diverse and colourful commercial fishing industry every day.

Remarkably, prior to her starting a degree in Marine Biology at the University of Cape Town, Fisokuhle had no experience of the sea whatsoever. But a field trip that she attended in her first year of university, when she learnt about the plants and animals that inhabit the rocky shores around Cape Town, was enough to convince her that she wanted to learn more about the marine environment. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and then read for an Honours degree in Ocean and Atmospheric Science. Recently Fisokuhle submitted a thesis to UCT − the final step in her endeavours to attain a Masters Degree in Applied Marine Science, also from UCT.

Like many South Africans of her generation, Fisokuhle is determined to help other young people to achieve their dreams and gain an education. She mentors a learner who is participating in the national Science Expo and gives motivational talks to young people with epilepsy.

“I make sure every day is a productive day,” says Fisokuhle with a gentle smile. “What inspires me is knowing that I’ve had an impact, that I’ve changed lives.”

Code of Conduct ushers in new era of cooperation in the fishing industry

Clyde Bodenham, chairperson of SAHLLA and Tim Reddell, chairperson of SADSTIA signed the Code of Conduct

A Code of Conduct signed by SADSTIA and the South African Hake Longline Association (SAHLLA) is expected to dramatically reduce conflicts between trawlers and longline fishing  vessels that target hake on the same fishing grounds.

The Code of Conduct was signed in Cape Town yesterday, 21 February, by the chairs of the two fishing associations, Tim Reddell of SADSTIA and Clyde Bodenham of SAHLLA.

“Conflicts arise from time to time, usually because of a lack of communication,” said Johann Augustyn, Secretary of SADSTIA, explaining that in the past, longline fishing gear has been lost when trawlers have mistakenly trawled over it.  This has resulted in claims against trawling companies.

The Code of Conduct sets out a protocol for both trawlers and longline fishing vessels to follow on the trawl grounds. It requires a vessel’s officers to use visual contact, radar or the maritime identification system AIS to determine whether there are any other vessels in the area before they begin fishing. Each skipper must announce via VHF radio their intention to begin fishing and provide their approximate start position and the course that their vessel will take. They may only proceed with gear deployment once they have communicated adequately with the vessels in the vicinity.

“Communication between vessels is the key to this Code of Conduct,” said Augustyn. “If adequate notifications are given and adequate responses are received, it is likely that we will see very few conflicts on the fishing grounds from now on.”

The Code of Conduct stipulates that communications should be conducted with courtesy and consideration by both parties, and it sets out the procedures to be followed if and when there are transgressions. Rather than individual skippers or fishing companies handling transgressions, these will be managed by the industry associations.

Bodenham welcomed the signing of the Code of Conduct, saying that it will lay the groundwork for better communication and cooperation between the two fishing sectors.

The review of the allocation of rights to the inshore fishery for hake and sole has been postponed to late April 2017

By agreement of both parties – Viking Inshore Fishing and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – the review of the allocation of rights to the inshore trawl fishery for hake and sole that was set to begin in the Cape High Court yesterday, 6 February 2017, has been postponed to late April 2017.

The outcome of the judicial review will have profound implications for the deep-sea trawling industry which faces a similar allocation of long-term rights in three years time.

“The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will allocate long-term rights to the deep-sea trawling industry in 2020. If further fragmentation is forced on the industry by the Department introducing a large number of small right-holders, the number of jobs created by the new entrants starting from scratch will in no way compensate for those that will be lost on the vessels and in the factories of the established fishing industry,” said Johann Augustyn, secretary of SADSTIA.

“Smaller quotas will result in less profitable factories, less beneficiation and therefore a reduction in the amount of South African hake that is sold to international retailers. It is the international market that makes this industry profitable.”

The outcome of the allocation of rights to the inshore trawl fishery (which catches hake and sole on shallow grounds off Mossel Bay and accounts for about 10% of annual hake landings) is considered to have signalled the degree of restructuring the government intends to apply when long-term rights are allocated to the much larger deep-sea trawl fishery in 2020. However, the rights allocation was successfully interdicted by Viking Inshore Fishing on 3 January 2017, resulting in a temporary suspension of fishing in the R700 million per year inshore trawl fishery.

Viking Inshore Fishing is a medium-sized, diversified fishing company that lost 60% of its inshore hake quota in the allocation. Its quota, and those of other established right-holders, was cut to make room in the fishery for 12 new entrants.

Augustyn emphasised that over the past 25 years the deep-sea trawling industry has restructured its ownerships to the point where 46 small, medium and large companies hold a stake in the fishery that prior to 1990 was completely dominated by five large companies. A recent study by the independent research and empowerment ratings agency, Empowerdex, pegged the industry’s black ownership at 62.36%

“In sharp contrast to widely held opinion that the deep-sea trawling industry is untransformed, Empowerdex found that it compares very favourably with other sectors of the economy; it placed fourth out of 10 when compared with other industries, scores for which were drawn from the top empowered listed companies in each sector,” he said.

“This industry has transformed and we believe there is no further need for social engineering. The market and usual laws of economics should be allowed to play their roles to achieve the maximum benefit for all stakeholders, including employees in the industry and employees in supporting industries.”

The deep-sea trawling industry sustains 7 050 good jobs, with employee benefits and opportunity for career progression. The jobs are all in coastal areas (Cape Town, Saldanha, Gansbaai, Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth) where job opportunities are generally scarce.

“Our fishery lands about 140 000 tons of fish every year and generates sales of approximately R5 billion and so the stakes are extremely high,” Augustyn concluded.

The South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association represents the interests of 46 trawling companies with investments of R5.9 billion.

Read ‘Transform at all costs’ agenda risks wrecking deep-sea fisheries sector. Business Day, 2 February 2017.

Read Economy of scale and the danger of fragmentation to the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry.