TAC and effort limitation

South African fisheries are managed according to two strategies: total allowable catch (TAC) and total allowable effort (TAE). In the first approach, an absolute limit is set on the amount of fish that may be removed from the sea in one season. This amount, referred to as the total allowable catch or TAC, is the amount of fish that may be safely removed from the fishery over a period of time (usually one year) without jeopardising future harvests. The TAC is apportioned between right-holders in the fishery who each receive an annual catch “quota”.

In contrast, effort-controlled fisheries restrict the amount of effort used to catch fish. For example, in the effort-controlled squid fishery, the number of boats is restricted, as well as the number of men allowed to fish from each boat.

The deep-sea trawl fishery is unique in that it is both a TAC and a TAE-controlled fishery. A limit is set on the amount of hake that may be caught every year (a TAC is set) and each trawler is licensed to fish for a limited number of days per year (regulation by TAE). The so-called “sea days” limit seeks to ensure that the deep-sea fishing fleet doesn’t grow too big for the available resources and also prevents the targeting of bycatch species once quotas for hake have been filled.


In the late 1970s, South Africa set about expelling the foreign fishing fleets and putting in place a regulatory and conservation system for the main fishery resources, including hake. Initially, this system focused on controlling access and setting precautionary catch limits, tasks that the government and the fishing industry tackled together. Since then, SADSTIA has continued to cooperate with government with the goal of improving the sustainability of the hake fishery. The certification of the deep sea trawl fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council in 2004, provided significant impetus for this co-management arrangement.

Some of the sustainability measures adopted by SADSTIA in cooperation with the government include:

  • effort controls aimed at ensuring the fishing fleet doesn’t grow too large for the available resources
  • an in-house scientific observer programme
  • the compusory deployment of tori lines
  • a VMS-monitored ring-fence initiative
  • the incorporation of precautionary upper catch limits for certain bycatch species such as monk and kingklip.


Determining the TAC is no simple task; fish stocks are dynamic and grow or shrink in size depending on the number of juvenile animals entering the fishery, their growth rate and the amount of animals being removed from the fishery – through fishing, predation and the dispersal of eggs and larvae. Environmental factors, such as the winds and weather, also play a role.

TACs are determined by fisheries scientists working with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the government department responsible for the management of fisheries and living marine resources in South Africa. SADSTIA works in partnership with DAFF scientists to determine the most ecologically and economically sound catch limits.

To accurately assess the status of the hake stocks, scientists conduct two hake surveys every year. Trawls are conducted from the research vessel Africana in the same place and at the same time every year. Summer surveys cover the west coast (Orange River to Cape Agulhas) while the autumn survey covers the south coast from Cape Agulhas to Port Alfred. Results from the Africana surveys are combined with information extracted from the “catch returns” submitted to DAFF by the fishing industry. Catch returns record the time, place, size and composition of every catch made by the trawling industry. It is compulsory for all permit holders to complete and submit catch returns to the DAFF.

Sophisticated mathematical and statistical procedures are used to process this information and estimate a level of abundance for the Cape hakes. The next step is to estimate as accurately as possible how much fish may be removed from the stock without causing a permanent decrease in the size of the standing stock.

Based on this information, and after lengthy discussions between scientists and the fishing industry, a TAC is recommended. It is the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who makes the final decision as to what the TAC for the new fishing season will be. When taking a decision, the Minister is required to take into account the biological recommendations supplied by fisheries scientists, as well as the economic and social considerations that are presented by the Department.

Monitoring, Control & Surveillance

South Africa’s hake fisheries are among the best controlled in the world.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries employs a range of measures to monitor fishing activity and ensure compliance with fishing regulations.

  • Fishery control officers monitor all landings. Catches are weighed and inspected on the quayside and inspections are also made at processing factories.
  • Skippers are required to give 24 hours notice of their intention to offload their catch, thereby ensuring an inspector is available to check it. Each skipper’s logbook, which records trawling activity, catch size and composition, is submitted to the Department. (Catch data plays a very important role in assessing the size and status of the hake resource and, therefore, the size of the TAC.)
  • Three modern fisheries patrol vessels with boarding capabilities patrol South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone, regularly inspecting licensed fishing vessels at sea. Moreover, each vessel active in the hake fishery carries a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), which provides real-time information about the vessel’s position.
  • A dedicated scientific observer programme has been active in the hake fisheries since 2002. The programme enables fisheries scientists to collect accurate information about fishing activity and the status of hake and other offshore fish stocks. Information gathered by the scientific observer programme has been used to guide scientific and management decision-making.