Collaboration is the key to the future management of deep-water hake stocks

A panel of five international fisheries experts has encouraged South Africa to work more closely with its neighbour, Namibia, in the management of hake stocks.

The experts, who spent a week in early December analysing the state of South Africa’s major renewable marine resources, scrutinized the latest genetic studies of hake to better understand the structure of the hake stocks that form the basis of the R6.7-billion-per-year deep-sea trawl fishery.

They concluded that there are probably two stocks of shallow water hake (Merluccius capensis) – one in Namibia and one in South Africa – and there is a high likelihood of a single stock of deep-water hake (Merluccius paradoxus). However, the panel cautioned that further genetic studies, that draw on a higher number of samples from a much broader sampling area, are required before it can be definitively proven that a single stock of Merluccius paradoxus straddles the Orange River – the international boundary between South Africa and Namibia.

These findings have important implications for the management of the hake trawl fishery which is currently undergoing a fourth re-assessment by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

“The results of the International Review Panel will feed into the MSC re-certification process,” said Johann Augustyn, SADSTIA Secretary.

“One of the main findings is that we, together with our partners in the universities, need to use the latest genetic techniques to find out more about, in particular, the structure of the paradoxus stock. In the future, we would like to work more closely with our Namibian counterparts to develop joint stock assessments and for this we will also require Namibian stock assessment data. Namibia has already been given access to our data.”

The 2019 International Fisheries Review Panel experts included David Die of the University of Miami, USA; André Punt of the University of Washington, USA; Ralph Tiedemann of the University of Potsdam, Germany; Robin Waples of the National Marine Fisheries Service, USA; and Michael Wilberge of the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science, USA. All are acknowledged experts in the fields of quantitative fishery science, fish stock assessment, genetics and statistical analysis of data.

The annual International Fisheries Stock Assessment Review Workshop is convened by Emeritus Professor Doug Butterworth, head of the Marine Resource Assessment and Management (MARAM) Group at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. The Workshop has taken place every year for the past 20 years. It performs an extremely important peer review function because it provides South African fisheries scientists with an opportunity to subject their stock assessment techniques and findings to the scrutiny of international experts in the field.

“We are extremely fortunate to have globally recognised fisheries experts working with us to ensure that our hake stocks are effectively managed by assisting us with such rigorous peer review,” noted Augustyn. “The South African trawl fishery for hake is acknowledged to be one of the best managed hake fisheries in the world.”

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

Download the FINAL REPORT of the International Fisheries Stock Assessment Workshop

Diversification and expansion on the cards as Nalitha Fishing thrives in Hout Bay

Bonga Mavume’s entry to the fishing industry was via a corporate job with the Oceana Group, but the landmark Sea Harvest/Viking Fishing transaction in 2018 gave him the opportunity he needed to start and grow his own company. Today, only eighteen months after its genesis, Mavume’s Nalitha Fishing is diversifying and thriving in Hout Bay.

Bonga Mavume has worked in the food industry since graduating from university in late 1990s, but he and his wife Vatiswa have always run businesses outside of their corporate jobs.

“We’ve always been entrepreneurs,” says Mavume. “We used to wake up at five-o-clock in the morning and buy shoes to sell them. We would sell clothing and bags; we’ve owned shops in Langa. We’ve done a lot of things but we’ve never given ourselves a chance to focus on something full-time and now that we’re doing that, I’ll be honest with you, I won’t change this life for anything.”

Mavume’s enthusiasm for his role as managing director of Nalitha Fishing is visible. He is as comfortable in the frenetic processing environment of the company’s Sentinel plant in Hout Bay as he is on the adjacent quayside where he is working with local craftsmen to refurbish and convert the small pelagic vessel Water Baby so that it can participate in the tuna pole fishery.

“After spending plus-minus R250 000, this guy (Water Baby) is back into the ocean,” he says, brimming with enthusiasm for the carpentry, glass fibre repairs and electronic upgrades that are underway on the vessel. “But for me, the most beautiful part of this is that you’ve got another eight people who are going to be employed, who are going to work on this vessel full time, catching tuna, and during off-season we’ll find them something else to do.”

Although its interests in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery form the backbone of Nalitha Fishing, its Sentinel factory is the hub where Mavume is able to work with individuals and fishing companies to process and pack a wide range of seafood products. Sentinel is one of only two companies in Hout Bay to be certified by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications as HACCP compliant – a minimum requirement for exporting fish to the European Union. The factory also provides a home for Benguela Tuna, a trading company in which Nalitha Fishing owns a 50 percent share.

“We have retained the skills in the factory,” says Mavume. “We have highly experienced workers. They can fleck snoek like crazy, or if we’ve got an export order for PQs (prime quality, fresh hake), everybody just jumps in, they know what to do. We produce things here that some of the bigger businesses struggle to, purely because we’ve got experience, and the attitude and willingness.”

During the latter half of the year the factory becomes so busy that Mavume wishes he could expand it, but he knows that fishing is a seasonal business and subject to cyclical fluctuations in catch. However, the innate uncertainty that characterises fishing all over the world is far less of a concern to Mavume than the looming fishing rights allocation process (FRAP) that will roll out this year.

“2020 is key in that we expect the DEFF (Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries) to make the right decisions,” he says. “We have made investments with borrowed funds because we were encouraged to change the dynamics in the fisheries sector. So, we hope that the government will look at the companies, small and big, and have a clear policy and clear criteria that decides who gets allocated rights.”

As a 100 percent black-owned business, with hard investments in vessels and processing assets, Nalitha should be well-placed to benefit from FRAP, but Mavume is concerned about the uncertainty that continues to surround the process.

“It’s the end of January,” he says, “we don’t know when and we don’t know how (FRAP will unfold). We are positive because we should be in a good position – we tick all the boxes. Are we worried? Are we concerned? I would have to say ‘yes’ at this point in time because there are no clear guidelines.”

In spite of the uncertainty around FRAP, Mavume is optimistic about the prospects for Nalitha Fishing, which he is already diversifying and is eager to grow:

“Although it’s early days, if the fish continue to swim and the markets stay where they are, we should be able to make a success of it…” he says. “We’re waiting in anticipation (for FRAP). We like what we do and we’d like to continue to do it for a long time. We’re hoping the right decisions will be made.”