MSC re-assessment kicks off in Cape Town

Giuseppe Scarcella, Jim Andrews and Johanna Pierre will scrutinise every aspect of the management of the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and assess it against the MSC standard

The South African hake fishery was one of the first fisheries in the world to be certified as sustainable and well-managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It is still the only fishery in Africa to have achieved MSC certification. In October, the fourth re-assessment of the fishery began with a visit to Cape Town by the assessment team made up of Jim Andrews of the UK, Giuseppe Scarcella of Italy and Johanna Pierre of Australia.

Over the coming months, the assessment team will scrutinise every aspect of the fishery against the MSC Standard. Although assessing a fishery’s sustainability is a complex process, the concept behind the MSC Standard is simple – fishing operations should be conducted in ways that ensure the long-term health of fish populations, while the ecosystems they depend on remain healthy and productive to meet the needs of present and future generations.

The MSC Standard that will be applied in the fourth re-assessment is a more rigorous standard than was previously applied. It requires that more attention be paid to ecosystem issues – such as the effect that fishing has on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the management systems used to protect them – and it will deal with the possibility of stocks of hake being shared with neighbouring countries. These issues have raised some challenges, but SADSTIA is working hard to address them all.

The result of the re-assessment of the South African trawl fishery for hake is expected to be announced in May 2020.

The benefits of MSC certification


A study published in the journal Fisheries Research in 2016 found that the loss of MSC certification by the trawl fishery for hake would “lead directly to exclusion from vital, sorely won overseas outlets on which the present day industry is heavily dependent.” The authors, Philippe Lallemand, Mike Bergh, Margaret Hansen and Martin Purves, note that export markets for uncertified hake products are limited and that uncertified products are likely to achieve a much lower price. Therefore, under current market conditions, the loss of MSC certification would likely result in an oversupply of hake on the domestic market. The consequences would be:

  • Hake prices and market structure would be greatly affected, with a negative impact on shore-based employment. In a worst case scenario, this could mean the loss of 1 421 skilled workers, or 32.5% of those employed in hake processing.
  • A considerable decrease in the contribution of the hake trawl industry to South Africa’s gross domestic product − the decline would be between 28.3% and 54.3%.

Why the MSC and not another seafood sustainability certification programme?

A study undertaken by the international conservation organisation WWF in 2012 that compared seafood sustainability certification schemes, found that the MSC is the most compliant with international sustainability criteria. The WWF report compared four certification programmes for wild-caught fish, building on a previous study that compared 17 seafood sustainability certification programmes. The earlier report revealed poor performance and serious inadequacies in a number of eco-labels and cast doubt on their overall contribution to effective fisheries management and sustainability. The 2012 report made use of the same criteria as the previous study and added two more with the purpose of determining the extent to which the schemes are responding to the changing expectations of consumers, how wild fish stocks should be maintained and the standards to which credible certification schemes should aspire. The MSC scored the highest of all four schemes against both the original 2009 criteria and the new criteria.

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From chambermaid to chief engineer

Lucinda Krige, the first woman to qualify as a chief engineer in the South African fishing industry

On Thursday 21 November, World Fisheries Day will be celebrated around the globe, highlighting the importance of a sector that produces around 80 million tons of food and employs at least 40 million people.

Someone who has personal experience of the opportunities that exist in fishing is Lucinda Krige, the first woman to qualify as a chief engineer in the South African fishing industry.

Krige was working as a chambermaid in a Cape Town hotel when she read of an opportunity to train at sea as an engineering cadet. Knowing that this was her chance to achieve a lifelong ambition of working as an engineer, Krige applied for the position.

“l didn’t know much about life at sea – I’m the first in my family to work in the fishing industry – but I applied, I got the job and when I got into Sea Harvest and I got to know what marine engineering is all about, I discovered this is actually the career I was looking for and I didn’t even know it,” she says.

Chief engineers are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the main propulsion, marine systems and machinery on board a fishing vessel, including the main engines, auxiliary engines, the refrigeration and steering systems, as well as the processing equipment in the onboard fish factory.

“The vessels are technologically so advanced,” explains Krige, “there’s a lot of electronics behind the scenes that aid with navigation and trawling, and that is something that you also need to maintain and accommodate”.

It took Krige five years of theoretical training and work experience to secure a chief engineer’s qualification. On almost every ship she sailed she was the only woman on board and she says she received phenomenal tuition, support and encouragement from her male colleagues, especially the engineers, skippers and mates she worked with.

“Working in a male-dominated environment wasn’t intimidating to me. I just slotted in,” she recalls.

Today, 11 years after qualifying as a chief engineer, Krige has swopped her engineer’s overalls for a shore-based job in the learning and development department at Sea Harvest’s Saldanha Bay plant. She is responsible for maritime and technical training for Sea Harvest employees, as well as the training of approximately 40 apprentices.

“With my engineering background, I just hit the ground running when it came to learning and development because the fields that I’m responsible for now are actually just an extension of the work I did at sea,” she says.

Krige strongly encourages young people who want to follow a career in engineering to consider marine engineering because it encompasses such a broad spectrum of disciplines – from mechanical to electrical engineering, hydraulics and pneumatics and electronics.

“It is my privilege to tell people about the amazing scope for career progression that exists in the fishing industry,” she says.

Sea Harvest is one of 33 companies active in the South African deep-sea trawling industry which produces sustainable, Marine Stewardship Council-certified hake for local and export markets. The fishery provides 7 300 good jobs with regular wages and employee benefits, and delivers R6.7 billion to the South African economy every year.

Diversified in fishing

Twenty-five years since brothers Don and Basil Lucas started Combined Fishing Enterprises, the question of how best to utilise a small quota is as relevant today as it was then.

The brothers come from a family steeped in fishing – their grandfather, father and Basil himself all found employment in the local fishing industry – and in 1994, Don agreed to help Basil set up a fishing venture.

“I never wanted to be in the fishing industry,” recalls Don with a smile. “I went off and studied finance and accounting and treasury (at the University of Limerick in Ireland) and in 1994 I came back to South Africa. My brother had bought a vessel but he hadn’t registered a company yet and he was going through some financial difficulties. He asked me to assist him, so we formed Combined Fishing Enterprises.”

The company was one of the first non-white firms to secure a quota in the deep-sea trawl fishery, but its 400 ton allocation was insufficient to warrant investment in a deep-sea trawler. In 2000, Combined Fishing Enterprises purchased a trawler in the hope and expectation of securing a more viable quota, but the allocation at that point was still not enough to sustain the vessel and after almost 10 years of struggling to survive, it was sold.

Like many smaller quota holders, Combined Fishing Enterprises was forced to search for a joint venture partner and to keep on applying for quotas. To a large extent, it was the latter strategy that secured the company’s longevity in fishing.

“We got a hake longline quota and later on we got a small pelagic quota,” explains Don. “Hake trawl is our biggest quota and we are in a joint venture with Sea Harvest. We also have a hake longline quota and a joint venture with a small operator. For pilchards, we have a joint venture with Gansbaai Marine. We are planning to buy into the factory and we’ve also bought into a vessel there.”

Combined Fishing Enterprises manages the operations of another company, Tuna SA. It links Japanese boat-owners and South African rights holders in the large pelagic fishery and targets tuna for the sashimi market. Fishing takes place inside South African waters and on the high seas.

The result of 25 years of drive and determination is a diversified fishing company that is resilient to the hard knocks that come with fishing.

“The advantage (of diversification) is that you cross subsidise,” explains Don. “In times when one fishery is down – for instance this year we had zero pilchards (owing to very low pilchard biomass) – we have other quotas that can cross subsidise our costs.”

The lack of autonomy that many smaller rights holders complain of is very relevant to Combined Fishing Enterprises. Small quota holders are understandably regarded as a junior partner in a vessel owning joint venture and this is an uncomfortable position for a 25-year old company to be in, as Don explains:

“Our quota is too small to have a big share in a vessel and because of that we are less of a trend setter and more of a follower. We would like to have at least an equal share and an equal say in the operation of a vessel and for this we need viable quotas,” he says, adding that as government prepares to allocate rights to 12 commercial fishing sectors in 2021 it must consider the needs and aspirations of small and medium-sized companies like Combined Fishing Enterprises that have made investments and survived on the back of small allocations.

“I know that the minister (of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, Barbara Creecy) is looking to bring in new entrants, but I truly believe that smaller quota holders like ourselves need to be given a more viable quota so that we can create more jobs in our own companies and in the joint ventures that we have with the bigger companies. So, we would like an equitable and more viable-sized quota in all the fisheries we’ve invested in,” he says.

While Don may have resisted a career in fishing, his family’s history is as important to him as it is to Basil and the brothers are nurturing the interest and talent of Basil’s daughter Bianca Brophy whom they hope will continue their legacy in fishing.

“She is going to take over our company when we retire and she’ll bring up the next generation,” he says. “Bianca will be the fourth generation in fishing and we don’t see the lineage ending there.”