Fishing companies at the top of “Most Empowered Companies” list

Companies with interests in fishing were at the top of the Most Empowered Companies list, announced in Johannesburg on Thursday October 6 and published in Business Report last Friday.

African Equity Empowerment Investments, which topped the list of Most Empowered Companies, is parent company to Premier Fishing, which holds rights in the rock lobster fishery, the small pelagic fishery for sardine and anchovy, the squid fishery and the deep sea trawl and longline fisheries. In second place was South Africa’s biggest fishing company, the Oceana Group.

Both companies were scored against the Department of Trade and Industry’s 2013 Codes of Good Practice.

Research for the annual survey of South Africa’s Top 100 JSE-listed companies was conducted by the independent economic empowerment verification and research agency, Empowerdex.

Francois Kuttel, chief executive of the Oceana Group, says the fact that companies with interests in fishing feature so prominently in the Most Empowered Companies list is unsurprising. A report released by Empowerdex earlier this year showed that the deep sea trawling industry (South Africa’s most valuable commercial fishery with annual sales in excess of R5 billion), is at least 62.36% black owned.

“The fishing industry has undergone a sea change over the past 25 years. For example, prior to 1990 only a handful of companies held rights in the deep sea trawl fishery – all of them large and predominantly white-owned. Today, there are 52 right-holders and many of them are small to medium enterprises (SMEs) that have invested in vessels, factories and other capital equipment and are operating successfully alongside the large companies that remain in the fishery,” said Kuttel.

“Structural change has been good for the industry which is today more competitive than ever before.”

Oceana is one of the 52 right-holders in the deep-sea trawl fishery, a capital-intensive industry that requires large vessels and extensive skill to harvest hake about 100 nautical miles from the coast, with nets cast up to 800 meters deep and vessels sometimes riding 6 m swells. The catch is delivered to fish & chip shops in every corner of South Africa and processed and packaged into fish fingers and other popular hake products for local supermarkets. There is also a demanding international market that is supplied with a range of value-added hake products.

Collectively, the deep sea trawling industry employs 7 050 people at sites in Saldanha Bay, Cape Town, Gansbaai, Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth. Wages are negotiated at industry level and employees are offered a range of benefits including a variety of training opportunities and scope for career progression.

The deep-sea trawl fishery is certified as sustainable and well managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the world’s gold standard of sustainability ratings.

Farewell to Henk de Beer, the fisherman’s friend

Henk de Beer, Secretary of the South African Fishing Industry Employers Organisation (SAFIEO) and a long-standing advocate for the rights of sea-going workers in the deep sea trawling industry, has passed away in Cape Town aged 68.

A marine engineer by training, Henk’s career in fishing spanned several decades. He joined I&J in 1982 as a Training Manager and he made a point of going to sea and getting to know the skippers and crew on I&J trawlers. In this way he developed a deep and abiding respect for fishermen.

After his appointment as Human Resources Manager at I&J, Henk invested considerable time and energy in improving the working conditions of seagoing workers. His breakthrough came in 2001 with the establishment of a Bargaining Council for the South African fishing industry. This was followed in 2002 by the negotiation of a Collective Agreement which sets out basic conditions of employment for workers in the deep-sea and inshore trawl fisheries. Although Henk worked with his counterparts at other fishing companies to register the Bargaining Council with the Department of Labour, it would be true to say that it was he who provided the energy and passion to see the project through. His efforts were rewarded. Today seagoing workers in the deep sea and inshore trawl fisheries are protected by a unique labour relations framework that brings workers and employers together every year to negotiate around salaries and other benefits.

Henk was also active in the international arena, representing SAFIEO at the International Labour Organization and the International Maritime Organization.

In 2008, Henk reluctantly retired from I&J because of ill health. However, he retained his position as Chairman of the Bargaining Council, offering his skills to the fishing industry on a voluntary basis. Latterly he was appointed Secretary of SAFIEO.

Henk truly was a friend to South African fishermen. His knowledge and experience in human resources management and labour relations − which he gave freely to the trawling industry after his retirement from I&J − was invaluable and will be sorely missed.

The South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association expresses its heart felt condolences to Henk’s wife, Lynette, and the family.