A tribute to Roy Bross

Roy Bross, Executive Secretary of SADSTIA and a friend to all who were involved in the South African fishing industry, has died in Cape Town at the age of 74.

True to his nature, Roy worked for SADSTIA right up until he took ill in late July.

A real individual, with an analytical mind and a quick wit, Roy will be deeply missed by the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry which he served unwaveringly for the past 31 years.

Roy was appointed as Secretary of SADSTIA in 1983, at a time when the South African hake fishery had been devastated by − in Roy’s own words −”predatory trawling by essentially lawless and under-regulated international fishing fleets.” He personally participated in a major effort by the trawler owners of the time to rehabilitate the South African hake stock. Classical corrective measures were introduced, including the declaration of an exclusive economic zone, the establishment of an annual total allowable catch and the distribution of quotas. In this way, the deep-sea trawling industry, with Roy as administrator and lobbyist, began to implement a sustainability program that was well ahead of its time.

But Roy’s involvement in the deep-sea trawling industry went well beyond matters of catches and quotas (although he had an exact record of both). For instance, it was Roy who fought doggedly for over a decade to ensure that the fishing industry became exempt from certain fuel taxes. He won this battle in 1999, to the benefit of the entire fishing industry, not just the deep-sea association for whom he worked. He was also responsible for ensuring that South African exporters were able to implement the requirements of a European Union regulation that might otherwise have sunk a R3,5 billion export industry. The regulation was implemented on 1 January 2010 and it is fair to say that, were it not for Roy (at the age of 70) working day and night, the hake industry might well have lost its most important trading partner.

Roy was an economist by training, having attended the University of Cape Town at the somewhat advanced age of 30, graduating with a Bachelor of Business Science. He was appointed as fisheries economist to the Fisheries Development Corporation in 1973. “Fishcor” was a quasi-government body that was tasked with developing South African fisheries. It made a valuable contribution by building fishing harbours and lending money to fledgling fishing businesses, Sea Harvest among them.

To begin with, Roy’s job was to conduct the economic investigations that lay the groundwork for fishing harbour construction, but his years with the Corporation exposed him to a wide range of fisheries issues – from public finance and administration to industrial processes and technology. And, as he would tell anyone who also showed an interest in fish and fishing, the industry quickly captured and harnessed his intellect and his energy; for the next four decades he remained interested, engaged and passionate about his job and the fishing industry as a whole.

Roy considered the fishing industry to be a unique economic activity, vulnerable to a host of market and resource uncertainties and he was fascinated by the high levels of risk and complexity that make fishing such a difficult sphere for economic analysis and understanding.

Anyone who knew Roy would know that he was a true economist – patient and precise and always eager to discuss and debate the latest trends and issues affecting the industry, be they political or biological. His knowledge of the industry was deep and profound.

And then there was his sense of humour: subtle and dry and always present. With a word or a turn of phrase, Roy could introduce a sense of the ridiculous into the most serious scientific discussion, or, with a pointed irony, indicate his disapproval for work that was late, incomplete or not up to scratch.

Roy was one of those rare individuals who spend their professional lives doing something that they love – and the Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association is fortunate to have been the focus of his intellect and loyalty for so many years. But through his work, Roy also touched many lives and he will be fondly remembered for his deep knowledge of fishing, his kindness towards those he worked with and, of course, his irrepressible wit.

Roy is survived by his wife, Sue, and his daughters, Sarah and Helen, who live in Canada and the UK, respectively.