FRAP is top of mind as 2021 draws to a close

By Felix Ratheb, Chairman of SADSTIA

There is enormous hope within fishing companies, large and small, that the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) will end the year with a fair and rational allocation of rights across 12 commercial fisheries, the hake deep-sea trawl fishery among them.

As SADSTIA we have done everything within our power to assist the DFFE to meet the series of milestones necessary to ensure the fishing fleets can go to sea in early January as usual.

The pressure of submitting accurate and complete applications for rights by the 10 December deadline cannot be overstated, but the deadline has come and gone and SADSTIA members are now waiting anxiously for the outcome of the process. Collectively we hope for an outcome that will protect the livelihoods and secure the future of our employees, suppliers and the small, medium and micro enterprises (and their employees) that depend on a viable hake deep-sea trawl fishery. Equally important is a result that secures the global competitiveness of the fishery, bearing in mind that on international markets the South African industry is respected as a small but important supplier of high quality, sustainable, value-added whitefish products. Cape hake is known and appreciated in Europe, the United States and Australia. Exports make up just less than two thirds of all sales generated by the hake deep-sea trawl fishery, earning about R2.5 billion in foreign exchange annually.

Twenty-one months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a stable and profitable fishing industry is more pressing than ever.

The Genesis Analytics data released by SADSTIA in June shows that the hake deep-sea trawl fishery makes a total socio-economic contribution of R8.5 billion per year to the South African economy. Investments top R7.6 billion and the fishery provides direct and indirect employment for 12 400 people. Just over one thousand small, medium and micro-enterprises depend on the success of our fishery for their economic survival.

The strides the hake deep-sea trawl fishery has taken with respect to transformation mean that it can truly be celebrated by government as a successful, sustainable and inclusive industry.

There can be little doubt that the stability and competitiveness of the hake deep-sea trawl fishery have allowed our members to weather the COVID-19 storm. Over the course of this year, SADSTIA members have experienced unprecedented shifts in demand for Cape hake and withstood the challenges of a severely disrupted global supply chain. No jobs have been lost in our fishery. Our members are to be commended for prioritizing their workers’ health and well-being, while managing their quotas and keeping their vessels operational, so that the economic benefits of a stable and sustainable fishery continue to flow to their people and the country as a whole.

One of these benefits is the vaccination campaigns run by several companies on behalf of their workers. These campaigns have not only resulted in the vaccination of thousands of workers at their places of work, but they have also created awareness in fishing communities about the benefits of vaccination.

As an industry, our message to our employees has been to vaccinate themselves and their families and we will continue to drive vaccination efforts, especially in light of the alarming increase in daily infection rates that occurred in early December, apparently driven by the transmissibility of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Vaccination is the country’s only path out of lockdowns and the economic carnage they create.

The certification of the South African trawl fishery for hake by the Marine Stewardship Council, was undoubtedly one of the highlights of a very difficult year. We announced the third re-certification of the fishery in February, following a tough, year-long process. The certification is for a five-year period and during this time we will be expected to meet stringent conditions relating to the environmental performance of our fishery. Our members are committed to this effort, knowing that the sustainability of the trawl fishery is of paramount importance to its future.

The success and sustainability of the South African trawl fishery for hake demonstrates that rigorous fisheries management, including data collection, stock assessment, assiduous regulation and enforcement can be effective and result in abundant fish stocks and improved harvests. The DFFE and our academic partners should be proud of the role they have played in helping the industry to grow the hake stocks to the point where they are both above maximum sustainable yield.

Regardless of the outcome of FRAP 2021, real challenges lie ahead for SADSTIA and its members, including a weak economy, unstable global supply chains and the as yet unknown impact that climate change will have on deep-water stocks. A strong and united industry will be key to meeting these challenges head-on.

I wish to extend a word of thanks to SADSTIA members for their support, patience and cooperation in 2021. I wish them, our partners and stakeholders a restful holiday season and I look forward to regrouping in 2022 to work for the good of the South African hake deep-sea trawl fishery.