Black-owned rights holders that have invested in vessels and land-based infrastructure should be supported by government and allowed to grow.
This is the perspective of Stephen Dondolo, an entrepreneur and investor with a 20-year track record in the South African fishing industry.
Stephen is chairman of Eyethu Fishing, a vertically integrated rights holder in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and a diversified fishing company with interests in the small pelagic and squid fisheries.
His objective for Eyethu Fishing is to grow the company, employ more people and boost the economy of the Eastern Cape. “Eyethu Fishing is the only factory that is here (in the Eastern Cape) that employs so many people,” he says.
Approximately 350 people work at the company’s processing plant in Port Elizabeth.
“We’ve got vessels,” says Stephen, naming the freezer trawler Nomzamo 1 and two inshore trawlers Marigold and Marretje. A fourth vessel, Zolani, operates in the small pelagic fishery for sardines. Land-based infrastructure includes an ice-plant that supplies much of Port Elizabeth’s large squid fishing fleet, four hake filleting lines, chill rooms and freezer storage facilities.
Stephen is candid about the fact that the cost of maintaining Eyethu Fishing’s vessels and land-based infrastructure is subsidised to a degree by other investments in the stable of African Pioneer.
“African Pioneer, which is the shareholder here is 100 percent black-owned and has been like that for a very, very long time,” he explains. “If we did not have any other investments, it would have been tough for us. The other investments subsidise this investment because fishing is something that I like, and I think that if given a chance Eyethu Fishing can be one of the company’s better investments. The opportunity is there.”
The businessman is optimistic about the opportunities that the impending Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) will bring. FRAP is expected to get underway in April this year, with the goal of allocating long-term rights across nine commercial fisheries by 31 December 2021.
“If the government, when they view quotas going forward, they should start with those that need to be topped up a little, without damaging the bigger companies because they employ people, like we do. It (FRAP 2021) must be rational,” says Stephen.
His ambition is to take Eyethu Fishing to another level: from medium-sized company to large industrial processor. To do so, he needs sufficient quotas to keep his vessels and factory operational year-round.
“It is important that the infrastructure and the support you give to people, helps them up to a level where they become a bigger business, rather than leaving them small. This means you will never get what you want as an economy – to grow the economy and make sure that we have significant black-owned factories that are run professionally and that in the future are going to be serious participants,” he concludes.