International workshop reviews the operational management procedure for hake

Four international scientists worked with their South African counterparts at the University of Cape Town in late November to, among other things, review the operational management procedure (OMP) that has been proposed to recommend a total allowable catch for the hake fishery for the next four years.

The scientists are Sean Cox of Canada, Sarah Gaichas and André Punt of the United States of America, and Malcolm Haddon of Australia.

The International Stock Assessment Review Workshop is an annual event that is convened by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF) and the Marine Resource Assessment and Management (MARAM) Group at UCT’s Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. It is funded by DAFF and the National Research Foundation and 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.

Last year’s workshop determined that stocks of deep-water hake and shallow-water hake are “above maximum sustainable yield” and catches are sustainable over time. This was confirmed by the surveillance audit conducted by the Marine Stewardship Council in May 2018.

Download the final report of the International Stock Assessment Review Workshop 2018.

Case study documents the successful rebuilding of the South African hake resource

The experience of rebuilding the South African hake resource following its depletion by foreign fishing fleets in the 1960s and 1970s, and the management of the deep-sea trawl fishery since the 1980s, is documented in an important scientific Technical Paper published earlier this year.

“Rebuilding of Marine Fisheries” was jointly prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Fisheries Expert Group of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management. The paper presents an extensive global review of the concept and practice of fishery stock rebuilding and includes a number of case studies on rebuilding initiatives that have taken place in different parts of the world for a variety of fisheries.

Leading South African scientists Johann Augustyn, Andrew Cockroft, Janet Coetzee, Deon Durholtz and Carl van der Lingen contributed a chapter to the Technical Paper. Johann Augustyn is secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association and his co-authors are fisheries scientists working for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Their chapter is entitled “Rebuilding South African fisheries: three case studies”. It documents efforts to rebuild the deep-water hake, sardine and west coast rock lobster resources which have been subject to varying levels of depletion over time and achieved different degrees of success as a result of stock rebuilding efforts.

In the case of the hake resource, the incursion by foreign fishing fleets in the 1960s led to stock depletion and declining declining catch rates by 1972. The turning point was the declaration by South Africa of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in November 1977. This resulted in the exclusion of foreign vessels from local waters and is considered to be the start of the process of rebuilding the hake resource. Individual fishing rights or quotas were allocated for the first time in 1979.

Since 1990, the hake fishery has been managed by an operational management procedure (OMP), a system that utilises industry catch records and the results of annual research surveys and applies a set of pre-determined harvest control rules to recommend an annual total allowable catch.

The case study documents how the hake OMP has adapted over the years to accommodate fluctuations in the hake stock, changing fishing practices and new knowledge about the behavior of the stock. For example, in 2006 stock assessments indicated that several years of poor recruitment for both deep-water (Merluccius paradoxus) and shallow-water hake (Merluccius capensis) had resulted in a decline in biomass. At the time, the shallow-water hake stock was in relatively good condition, but there were concerns that the deep-water hake stock had declined to below maximum sustainable yield (MSY), a measure that aims to maintain a balance between the natural growth of a stock and the volume removed from it by fishing.

The case study demonstrates that the OMP has yielded positive results, with the decline in the spawning biomass of deep-water hake having reversed and stocks of shallow-water hake being fished well above MSY.

Today stocks of both deep water hake and shallow water hake are considered to be “above MSY”. This means the growth of the stocks is in balance with fishing activity and current catch levels are sustainable over time.

An increase in the annual total allowable catch is expected for the 2019 fishing season which begins on 1 January 2019.

SADSTIA creates new opportunities for graduates

In November, the assessment and selection of applicants for 10 internship positions was well underway following a September announcement that the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) is to sponsor 10 paid and structured internships in the field of environmental science over the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

The internships form part of WWF’s highly successful Graduate Internship Programme. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is a third partner in the initiative.

“Our members recognise that youth unemployment is one of the most serious challenges facing South Africa today and the SADSTIA/DAFF/WWF Graduate Internship Programme provides us with an opportunity to make a real difference and assist government,” said Terence Brown, chairman of SADSTIA. “We hope the programme will give individuals an opportunity to gain valuable work experience, link to professional networks and possibly establish a career in the fishing industry.”

Seven of the 10 SADSTIA/DAFF/WWF interns will be placed at fishing companies that are members of SADSTIA, and three will be placed at the Fisheries Branch of DAFF.

Since its launch in 2011, the WWF Graduate Internship Programme has grown considerably in scope and impact and to date 128 interns have participated in the programme. Interns are selected from 20 universities situated all over the country – from the University of Venda in the north, to the University of Zululand in the east and the historically significant University of Fort Hare, to name a few.

According to Glenda Raven, director of the WWF Graduate Internship Programme, the inclusiveness and wide geographical spread of the annual intake of interns has enabled WWF to meet one of the programme’s key objectives – to attract diversity to the environmental field.

Of the 128 interns who have participated in the WWF Graduate Internship Programme, 76% of have moved directly into permanent jobs and 81% are employed in the environment sector. Those who are employed outside the environment sector often fulfill an environmental function in their jobs; for instance, a job as a sustainability manager in the retail sector. Another interesting fact is that 15% of those who have participated in the WWF Graduate Internship Programme have gone back to university; eight former interns are currently studying at doctoral (PhD) level.

“The partnership with SADSTIA and DAFF is a significant milestone in the evolution of the WWF Graduate Internship Programme,” said Raven, “I would like to think that this is the point at which we begin working with many other organisations to expand the programme. I see this as the catalyst.”

Once they are selected to participate in the SADSTIA/DAFF/WWF Graduate Internship Programme, graduates and their mentors attend orientation and training courses so that they are clear about their respective roles and responsibilities.

Pictured at the launch of the SADSTA/DAFF/WWF Graduate Internship programme are (from left) Johann Augustyn, secretary of SADSTIA; Madoda Khumalo, strategic services executive at Sea Harvest and head of SADSTIA’s Scientific Committee; Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa;  Fisokuhle Mbatha, SADSTIA research assistant; Glenda Raven, director of the WWF Graduate Internship Programme; Belemani Semoli, acting director general of the Fisheries Branch of DAFF; Sue Middleton, chief director of Fisheries Operations Support in the Fisheries Branch of DAFF; Terence Brown, operations director of Sea Harvest and chairman of SADSTIA; and Saasa Pheeha, acting chief director of Fisheries Research & Development in the Fisheries Branch of DAFF.

“The sea life is an adventure, not a living”

Harvest Krotoa’s cook, George Erasmus, has witnessed many changes that have taken place in the deep-sea trawling industry and is proud to have played a role in improving working conditions for fishermen.

George has worked in the trawling industry for 38 years and spent most of that time at sea, but for a period of 15 years, he was a representative of and a shop steward for the Trawler and Line Fishermen’s Union (TALFU). George helped to establish the Bargaining Council for the Fishing Industry that was registered with the Department of Labour on 14 December 2001.

The Bargaining Council provides a forum for employers and trade unions to meet and negotiate about salaries and conditions of employment for sea-going workers.

“Sea Harvest has played a big role in bringing change to our community,” says George. “I was part of that change because of my role in the unions and the Bargaining Council.”

A fully qualified caterer, George plays an extremely important role on Harvest Krotoa. He not only prepares three nutritious meals per day, he also ensures that the galley (ship’s kitchen) and lounge area provide a welcoming environment in which the crew can spend some of their leisure time. And, as one of the senior members of the crew, George provides sage advice and encouragement for the younger members. “I try to encourage them to make a career for themselves at sea,” he says, “the sea life is an adventure, not a living.”

I’ve gained a lot, working as the captain’s “right-hand man”

Wherever you are on the fishing trawler Harvest Krotoa, you can be sure that the ship’s Bosun, Lumkile Sodela, is not far away.

The energetic seafarer, who is known as Wiseman to his crew mates, is responsible for the safety of the deck hands who work in the exposed environment of the trawl deck. He also keeps an eye on the ship’s fish factory, working closely with Factory Manager, Colin Jaars, to make sure that the processing and preservation of the catch proceeds efficiently. But much of Lumkile’s time is spent on the bridge, working side-by-side with Skipper Ryno Blaauw, playing a key role in the smooth running of the ship.

Over the seven years they have worked together on Harvest Krotoa, the two seafarers have forged a strong bond.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the skipper,” says Lumkile thoughtfully, “he allows me to take responsibility and that is a benefit for me, I feel very confident working with him. I’ve gained a lot working as the captain’s right-hand man”.

Lumkile worked as a deck hand for 15 years before qualifying with a Grade 4 ticket and being appointed as Bosun. He places a lot of emphasis on safety and seems to magically appear to assist the deck hands when rough seas and a rolling ship make their work difficult.

“I must be there to monitor them to see they are okay on the deck,” he says. “I don’t want dangerous situations”.

Lumkile’s son has followed in his father’s footsteps and is currently working as an engine room assistant, commonly known as a “greaser”, on a Sea Harvest trawler.

“I started working as an engineering cadet, right after school”

For Chief Engineer, Ronald Cottee, Harvest Krotoa provides a challenging working environment. The vessel is driven by a powerful 3 000 HP Wärtsila engine and carries a complex array of winches used to deploy and retrieve its twin trawl nets.

Ronald and his colleagues, Second Engineer Oscar Seide and engine room assistants Tembekile Mnyaka and Mwuzi Mgiwu, are responsible for operating and maintaining all the machinery on the Harvest Krotoa. The engine room is manned day and night and the engineering team must work hard to ensure that the trawl operation is never impeded or delayed by faulty equipment.

Ronald comes from a fishing family and embarked on a career as a marine engineer at the age of 20.

“I started working as an engineering cadet right after school,” he says. “In the beginning it was tough, but today the fishermen enjoy much more freedom.”

After seven years of training and working at sea, Ronald achieved his Chief Engineer’s ticket and a year later he got his first appointment as a Chief Engineer working aboard a fishing trawler.

Over the course of his 38-year career, Ronald has worked for three fishing companies, all of which operate trawlers in the deep-sea trawl fishery for hake. He has worked for Sea Harvest for 15 years.

“It’s a great privilege to be skipper of this vessel”

You don’t become the skipper of a fishing trawler overnight. It takes years of study and dedication. Some of the studying takes place in a classroom, but most knowledge is gained by working at sea; fishing in different seasons, weather conditions and on a variety of trawl grounds.

Ryno Blaauw, skipper of the 47.6m, 1 111 ton Harvest Krotoa, took 17 years to qualify as a skipper and has now spent 13 years as a member of the elite team of skippers who captain Sea Harvest’s fishing trawlers.

An affable, easy-going man when off duty, Ryno is the ultimate professional when he’s on the bridge directing the trawl operation.

“Being the skipper of Harvest Krotoa, is a privilege,” he says, “to be in charge of a vessel of this size is a huge responsibility.”

The Spanish-built Harvest Krotoa is one of the largest fresh fish trawlers in the Sea Harvest fleet and is unique in that it is a twin trawler with a powerful engine that allows it to simultaneously drag two nets through the water. It also has extremely sophisticated trawling equipment, including an electronic sensor system that accurately monitors the amount of fish in each net throughout the trawl operation.

Like many of the professionals who captain deep-sea trawlers, Ryno is modest about his achievements and quick to acknowledge the role that others have played in his career. He names skippers Clive Lewis, James (Jimmy) Baker and Zennen Ruiters, and mate Harold Arries, as particularly important mentors and friends.

“I spent almost nine years as a mate with Zennen, and I spent a lot of time with Jimmy when I was a cadet, a bosun and a mate,” he says, “I learnt a lot from them.”

As a skipper, Ryno is not only responsible for the safety of his crew and the vessel they work on, he also makes decisions about where to fish, when to fish and how to fish, i.e. with one net or two. As such, the Harvest Krotoa’s catch performance is largely in his hands. Ryno appears to carry the responsibility lightly, but he sleeps only for short periods and spends long hours on the bridge monitoring the plethora of variables that combine to make a good catch. When the trawl nets are hauled, he watches and guides the operation with razor-sharp attention.

That Ryno leads by example is evident from the teamwork and commitment demonstrated by his crew who safely and efficiently deploy and retrieve the trawl net and process the catch as fast as possible. Their work takes place at all times of the day or night and regardless of the wind and waves that often create an unsteady and sometimes uncomfortable working environment.

Ryno emphasises the importance of mutual respect on a fishing vessel, quoting the French military leader, Napoleon, who is reputed to have said “there are no bad armies, only bad generals”.

“I try to live by that,” says Ryno, “I still believe whatever happens on board a vessel reflects on me and I don’t want to be a bad general.”

“But credit must go to the crew. Whether its 3 o’ clock in the morning or 5 o’ clock in the afternoon, they work hard, they go about their business. It’s just another day on the trawlers.”

At home on a stormy sea

Johanna Loos, Anna Toontjies and Celeste Swartbooi are three of the women who work on Harvest Krotoa. Their crew mate, Rafieka Visagie was on shore leave when this photograph was taken.

In 2007, Sea Harvest became the first fishing company in South Africa to offer women the opportunity to work at sea and Johanna Loos, who had worked in the company’s fish processing plant in Saldanha for 18 years at the time, was one of the first women to take up the opportunity.

Johanna Loos, pictured in the galley (kitchen) of Harvest Krotoa.

“It was always my dream to work at sea,” reflects Johanna, who is fondly called “Mumsy” by her crew mates on Harvest Krotoa. Speaking in Afrikaans, with a characteristic west coast lilt, Johanna remembers:

“When I was working in the factory in Saldanha, I would see the fishermen coming from sea, and I always thought to myself, if the company gives me the opportunity, I would love to work at sea.”

Johanna was one of a group of 30 women who in 2007 were trained and prepared to work in Sea Harvest’s ship-board factories.

“My motive was always to make a better life for my family,” says Johanna, explaining that the wages for sea going factory workers are higher than for those who work ashore.

Anna Toontjies, at work in the fish factory of Harvest Krotoa

From the first day that she worked at sea, Johanna enjoyed the work and was curious to find out everything she could about the operation of a fishing trawler. Today, a ten-year veteran, she has developed a deep love for the sea and her way of life. She has also smoothed the way for other women to work at sea, as her friend and colleague, Anna Toontjies, describes.

“I was terribly seasick,” says Anna of the first time she worked at sea, “but Mumsy looked after me, she got me through it.”

Anna is dwarfed by the male crew mates who stand side-by-side with her in the fish factory of Harvest Krotoa, but she is valued for her skill and efficiency in sorting and handling hake, kingklip and other species she helps to process every time the net is hauled.

The diminutive Anna has worked at sea for six years and in this time she has overcome debilitating seasickness and a fear of storms at sea. She is fond of her crewmates and happy with the life she leads on Harvest Krotoa.

“We are like a family,” she reflects. “We are very comfortable with each other and have a very good understanding on board, especially with our captain. We can talk to him and he is always there to solve our problems.”

For Anna, the best thing about working at sea is the experience of travel – she enjoys visiting the different ports where she sometimes joins the vessel and she likes seeing the different types of fish that are caught.

Another valuable member of Harvest Krotoa’s fish processing team is Celeste Witbooi who is proud to be continuing her father’s legacy by working at sea:

“My father was a fisherman,” she says, “when they asked me at school what I wanted to do for a living, I replied that I wanted to be a fisherman! So I went to Sea Harvest and I gave them my CV and I didn’t stop asking if I could work at sea until they gave me the opportunity!”

Celeste Witbooi is pictured with a very large specimen of the deep-sea fish John Dory.

Celeste has worked at sea for the past seven years and in that time she has had an opportunity to work on deck and in the fish factory. She would like the opportunity to train as an officer.

“There is no woman bosun, mate or skipper,” she says pointedly, “that is the next step for us, to get training, to be given a chance.”

Although the three factory workers acknowledge that their choice of career is unusual for women, they believe it is the right choice for each of them.

Says Anna: “My family don’t really understand the work I do at sea, but my father was a musician and he was known as ‘’n man van durf en daad’ (an adventurer, a man of action). Now I just tell my family, ‘ek is vrou van durf en daad’ (I am an adventurer, a woman of action).”