When allocating fishing rights, Government should learn from the errors of 2016

The 2016 allocation of rights to the hake inshore trawl fishery was a costly policy and administrative mistake that should not be repeated when rights are allocated to 12 other commercial fisheries in 2021.

This is the advice from the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) which has published the findings of an analysis of the allocation of rights to the hake inshore trawl fishery, an industrial fishery that targets hake and Agulhas sole on the Cape south coast. Since 2016, the allocation of rights to the hake inshore trawl fishery has been reviewed by the High Court no less than eight times, and 30% of rights in the fishery remain disputed and subject to an appeal process.

“The protracted rights allocation process has introduced considerable uncertainty into an already high-risk industry,” said Felix Ratheb, chairman of SADSTIA and chief executive of Sea Harvest. “The key finding of SADSTIA’s analysis is that the allocation of many rights of small value to a large number of new entrant companies has compromised the stability and competitiveness of the hake inshore trawl fishery. The economic and environmental impacts will be felt for years to come.”

The National Development Plan (NDP), compiled over a period of two years by the National Planning Commission, made two clear recommendations for the allocation of fishing rights to the industrial fisheries: allocate economically viable fishing rights and ensure that the allocation of rights maximises employment. The allocation of rights to the hake inshore trawl fishery in 2016 did not follow the recommendations of the NDP. The Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries (DEFF) dramatically increased the number of right holders in the fishery – from 16 to 37 – and reduced the share of the allowable catch allocated to established companies by 30%. This resulted in large losses for the companies with the investments and experience to add value to the catch and maximise employment. These companies are substantially transformed; in 2016 their average black ownership was estimated to be 82%. It is currently 85.6%.

SADSTIA’s analysis shows that the allocation of rights to the hake inshore trawl fishery achieved an increase of 3.5% in the black ownership of rights holders, but this was attained at considerable economic cost.

“One of the biggest problems with allocating rights to a large number of new entrants is that individual rights are very small. This means that new entrants are unlikely to secure the finance necessary to invest in a vessel, build factories or participate in the fishery in a meaningful way. Instead, they rent their quotas to established companies, pushing up the cost of raw material and compromising the business models of the processing factories,” explains Ratheb.

The loss of quota by the established companies, who own the processing facilities, drives up costs, affects the international competitiveness of the fishing industry and ultimately impacts on the number and quality of jobs it can support.

SADSTIA’s analysis suggests that if the DEFF had comprehensively evaluated Government’s success in transforming the hake inshore trawl fishery, and properly assessed the investments and jobs supported by the established companies, it might have re-evaluated its administrative decision to fundamentally restructure the fishery.

“This is why we are so supportive of the DEFF’s announcement that it will undertake a detailed socio-economic impact assessment study (SEIAS) of the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and 11 other fisheries to which rights will be allocated in 2021,” says Ratheb.

SADSTIA is hopeful that the SEIAS will be conducted by reputable economists and will accurately assess the state of transformation, and the depth of investment and job creation of the individual fisheries, but particularly the hake deep-sea trawl fishery which is by far South Africa’s most valuable fishery. An independent economic study conducted in 2018 found that the fishery generates annual sales of R4.5 billion and accounts for approximately 45% of the value of the commercial fisheries. It is the only fishery in Africa to be certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling programme for sustainable, wild-caught seafood. MSC certification, and massive investments in fishing and processing assets, have enabled the hake deep-sea trawl fishery to achieve international success – 70% of the fishery’s catch is exported, earning valuable foreign exchange and corporate taxes for South Africa. The hake deep-sea trawl fishery sustains 7 300 direct jobs and an estimated 29 200 indirect jobs. Rights holders are collectively 66.6% black-owned and their contribution to the transformation of the fishing industry is broad-based.

“If the SEIAS is well done and those who are responsible for rights allocation gain a fundamental understanding of the unique characteristics of the fishery, the DEFF can avoid making the same mistakes it made with the hake inshore trawl fishery,” says Ratheb. “What is absolutely key going forward is that policy is formulated and aligned to the President’s priorities of preserving and creating jobs, encouraging investment and promoting inclusive growth. Decisions need to be based on facts, not hearsay, and they must ensure that progress in transformation and job creation are rewarded.”


What is it like to work in the fishing industry as a woman?

Statistics tell us that the hake deep-sea trawl fishery is male dominated – an estimated 40% of people working in the fishery are women. Does this matter? What does it mean for gender equality? Four women working in different roles in the fishery share their views and experiences.


Bianca Brophy

Bianca Brophy is general manager of Combined Fishing Enterprises, a family business started by her father and mother, Basil and Doreen Lucas, and her uncle Don Lucas. The company is active in the hake deep-sea trawl, hake longline and small pelagic fisheries.

Brophy is a trained teacher, but gave up the teaching profession when she was asked to contribute her skills to the family business. Since 2007, she has been intricately involved in the day-to-day running of Combined Fishing Enterprises and she says that learning the fishing business “from the ground up” has given her the knowledge and confidence to tackle whatever challenges come her way.

In an interview about her career and her experience in the fishing industry, Brophy was quick to direct attention away from herself, pointing to older women who began working in the fishing industry during the apartheid era, overcame considerable barriers and smoothed the way for the women who have come after them. She mentions Claudia Bowers, former commercial manager of Pioneer Fishing and Celeste Diest, chief executive of Impala Fishing, as two particularly inspiring women.

“I have a lot of respect for women who speak up,” says Brophy, admitting that it took time and a conscious effort to find her voice. She began by listening and asking questions, and gradually found the confidence to express her ideas and opinions, not only in her own company, but also at industry forums.

Brophy says that in the course of her career in the fishing industry she has met many gutsy women. She believes that women bring a level of compassion and empathy to a business environment and she would like to see more women working in fishing, particularly in technical or leadership roles.

“If we had more women skippers, more engineers, it would raise women’s expectations to a different level. If we could achieve that, I would be even prouder to be part of this industry,” she says.


Fisokuhle Mbatha

Fisokuhle Mbatha is a research assistant working for the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA). She holds a Master’s degree in applied marine science and has a special research interest in hake. Her recently published paper has advanced knowledge about the lifecycle of deep-water hake.

Mbatha is an observant person and during visits to the factories of SADSTIA member companies, she noticed very clearly defined gender roles: whereas women are by far the most numerous employees in the onshore processing plants, skilled jobs in the fields of engineering, maintenance and refrigeration are almost exclusively filled by men. Mbatha would like to see less clearly defined gender roles in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery.

“Some of our members have opened up opportunies for women to work at sea and I believe other companies should be encouraged to do the same,” she says, advocating for companies to prioritise gender equality.

Mbatha is also aware of the fact that there are few women in leadership positions in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and she says that this can make it difficult for women, especially young women, to make their voice heard. She describes how she arrived at SADSTIA from an academic institution and was initially hesitant to participate in meetings. Would it have been easier if there were more women in leadership positions? “Yes,” says Mbatha. Like Brophy, Mbatha has benefited from the encouragement and example of other women in the industry, but she has also had strong support from male colleagues.

Mbatha believes that training is the first step in creating opportunities for women and she is proud that SADSTIA is becoming a “game changer in skills development”. She is referring to the SADSTIA Graduate Internship Programme which has so far provided work experience, and in some cases permanent employment, for 20 young graduates in the fields of science, human resources and finance, among others. Mbatha has thrown her considerable energy into the Graduate Internship Programme and is determined to see it play a pivotal role in creating opportunities for young professionals in the fishing industry.

She has a powerful message for young women who aspire to work in the fishing industry:

“Don’t be discouraged that this industry is perceived to be male dominated,” she says, “we are the women who will make a change. It starts with positivity. Be inspired by the few visible women in the industry and consider yourselves fortunate that doors are open. It depends on us to develop careers in this industry.”


Nozipho Mkhabela

Nozipho Mkhabela is a relative newcomer to the fishing industry. She began her career in 2019 when she was appointed as an intern at the fishing division of I&J. Today she works in I&J’s Business Intelligence unit, contributing her skills as a GIS (geographic information systems) analyst.

Mkhabela studied Environmental Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She was trained in the use of GIS software, and when she joined I&J she got an opportunity to apply the skills she had previously used in the terrestrial environment, in the marine environment.

“My internship provided me with an opportunity to learn different things,” says Mkhabela. “I got to apply new tools. Even now, the work I do changes constantly and my mind is kept active.”

Mkhabela expresses admiration for the work done by women in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery’s expansive shore-based processing plants. In fact, the exposure she has had to I&J’s fishing and processing operations has been one of the highlights of her job so far.

“All the exposure has been very exciting,” she says, “when it comes to the work that we do on shore, the interactions we have with the sea men, all of that is totally new for me and personally I feel embraced and encouraged to shine at I&J.”

Asked whether there are any special qualities that women bring to the fishing environment, Mkhabela says she would be hard pressed to identify specific qualities, but she believes that when women and men work together, an ideal balance of skills and abilities is created. Consequently, she would like to see the equal representation of women and men in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery.

Mkhabela has good advice for other young women who would like to build a career in the fishing industry. She says:

“I say ‘go for it’. Do all the preparation that’s needed and put your best foot forward. The idea that this is a male dominated industry, that shouldn’t phase anyone. It’s just stats, there’s nothing else to it! Once you are in the industry that you want to be in, you do your best and you should also keep your learning spirit alive.”


Jennifer Jeanes-Pleass

Jennifer Jeanes-Pleass is a shareholder and managing member in Pellsrus Historical Fishing Corporation, a company that holds quotas in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and the hake longline fishery. Pellsrus Fishing was started by Jennifer’s late husband, Richard Pleass and seven other fishers from the Jeffries Bay and Humansdorp area, the heart of the squid fishing industry, in 1995.

Jeanes-Pleass’ introduction to the fishing industry was sudden and dramatic. She became a shareholder, and was nominated the managing member of Pellsrus Historical Fishing Corporation, after Richard passed away in 2014.

“While Richard was alive, I kept my eyes and ears open and was able to pick up a lot from him in that way, even though I didn’t work with him in the business,” she recalls, adding that taking on the role of managing member was difficult.

Jeanes-Pleass recognises that the mentorship and support of Combined Fishing’s Don Lucas was invaluable. He was willing to share his knowledge and help her find her feet in the fishing industry. To this day, Jeanes-Pleass works closely with Lucas; Pellsrus Historical Fishing Corporation and Combined Fishing Enterprises have pooled their quotas and bought an equal share in the trawler Harvest Kirstina.

Jeanes-Pleass is proud of the fact that Pellsrus Historical Fishing Corporation is 57% women-owned. She hopes to increase the company’s quotas in the forthcoming fishing rights allocation process, with the objective of eventually owning and operating a vessel in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery. She is positive about the experience of working in the fishing industry, saying that attitudes towards women have changed and are changing.

Fishing industry bids farewell to a giant

Nico Bacon, founder and former executive chairman of the Viking Fishing Group, which was sold to Sea Harvest in 2018, has died in Cape Town at the age of 89. True to character, the legendary fishing entrepreneur worked right up until three weeks ago when he fell ill with Covid-19.

Practical, down-to-earth and profoundly entrepreneurial, Bacon left his mark on virtually every industrial fishery in South Africa. His career spanned 52 years and over that period he worked closely with skippers and fishing crews to experiment with new gears or test the potential of underutilised resources. For example, in 1984 he worked with Spanish fishers to test a system for catching kingklip and hake by longline. Having failed with the Spanish single line system, he brought some fishers to South Africa from Portugal. They showed him how to use the double line system, the method of longlining that is still used in South Africa today to catch hake. Viking Fishing was also one of the first South African companies to successfully target horse mackerel, learning from the Polish fishers who pioneered the midwater trawl fishery in South Africa. To this day, Sea Harvest’s Viking Fishing Division is one of the few deep-sea trawling operations with the technology and expertise to employ a dual catch strategy, switching between the targeting of horse mackerel and the targeting of hake.

Bacon grew up in the coastal villages of Gordon’s Bay, Strand and Somerset West in the 1930s and ’40s. His parents owned Gordon’s Bay Fisheries and Bacon spent his early years in the company of small boat fishermen, learning to catch “silver fish” in False Bay. He told the story of how, at the age of eight, he was persuaded by a group of fishermen to go fishing in the late afternoon. When he got home after dark – with two kob in hand – he received a hiding from his traumatised parents who had no idea of his whereabouts and were sick with worry.

Bacon fished constantly while he attended the University of Cape Town, reading for a degree in mechanical engineering. He graduated with sore hands the day after the linefish boat that he worked on through the previous evening landed 600 geelbek. He recalled that he made enough money from that fishing trip to buy himself a blazer for his graduation ceremony.

At the age of 29, after a seven year stint as an engineer at the AECI explosives factory in Somerset West, Bacon took his first job in the fishing industry. He started working for A.P. du Preez who founded the Kaap Kunene Group (which later became Suiderland Fishing and is now Pioneer Fishing.) Although he had hoped to get a job as a manager in a fishmeal factory or a cannery, Du Preez made him shore skipper.

So successful was Bacon as shore skipper that after two years he was managing the nine boats that offloaded into Du Preez’s Da Gama factory in Hout Bay, plus another eight boats that offloaded into the other factory in Hout Bay – Sea Plant Products. And each year the three top pelagic catchers on the west coast were from the Da Gama fleet. When there was a fisherman short, Bacon used to go out on the boat himself.

Bacon joined I&J in 1968, at a time when the company’s antiquated steam trawlers were failing to compete against the massive Russian and Spanish factory trawlers that were fishing in South African waters at the time. He immediately embarked on a project to upgrade the company’s fleet. The first thing he did was to scuttle all 10 steamers. The first steamer he had to get rid of was called the George Irvin – the flagship of the I&J fleet, named after one of the founders of the company – but Bacon knew that the only way he could improve I&J’s catches was to modernise its vessels.

After catch rates improved in Cape Town, Bacon was appointed to the post of group fishing manager. His job was to manage I&J’s fishing operations in Walvis Bay, Cape Town, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth and Durban.

In 1980, Bacon parted company with I&J, borrowed R30 000 and started Viking Fishing with one trawler, the Benguela Viking. He used his car as his office and he went to sea for 10 days per month. When he returned to shore, he would sell the vessel’s catch. This practical, “hands on” approach stood him in good stead throughout his career and earned him a notable reputation in the South African fishing industry. Skippers and managers spoke about him with great respect, and many executives admired him as one of the hardest working people in the fishing industry.

His entrepreneurial spirit was legendary and Viking Fishing was one of the first fishing companies in South Africa to invest and diversify into aquaculture, or fish farming. Viking Aquaculture established abalone farms at Buffeljags on the Cape south coast and Kleinzee in the far Northern Cape, trout farms in the Cape winelands region and oyster and mussel farms in Saldanha Bay. Most recently, the company has pioneered the farming of ocean trout in sea cages in Saldanha Bay.

In 2016, when government allocated long-term rights to the hake inshore and midwater trawl fisheries, Viking Fishing suffered massive cuts to its quotas. In a bid to secure the jobs and livelihoods of the company’s 1 500 employees, Bacon sold out to Sea Harvest. His practice of consistently investing Viking Fishing’s profits back into the business paid dividends for the company’s employees who, as members of the Viking Fishing Staff Share Trust, received generous pay-outs from the Sea Harvest transaction.

Throughout his career, Bacon played a leading role in the management of the fishing industry. He had deep respect for fisheries science and served on fisheries advisory committees in both Namibia and South Africa. He also served many terms on the executive committee of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association and as chairman of the Midwater Trawling Association.

Although Bacon will be remembered as a giant of the South African fishing industry, he also won accolades for the establishment of Org de Rac – one of the first truly organic wine farms in South Africa. The farm produces a wide range of wines for the local and international market and is particularly renowned for the quality of its Methode Cap Classique.

Bacon had a tremendous affinity for the sea, and the people who work on it. Colleagues and friends will miss him for his no-nonsense approach to business and will remember him as a man of his word. He is survived by his wife, Wanette and his sons Grant, Peter, Craig and Neil.

SADSTIA elects a new chairman

The South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) has elected Sea Harvest chief executive, Felix Ratheb, as chair of the Association.

Ratheb takes over from his Sea Harvest colleague, Terence Brown, who chaired the Association for the past three years.

Ratheb has more than 17 years of experience in the fishing industry. He joined Sea Harvest as a commercial manager in 2003, was promoted to group sales & marketing director in 2006, and group CEO in 2013. He has represented Sea Harvest at SADSTIA since 2013 and served as a trustee on the board of the Marine Stewardship Council from 2016 to 2019. He is also a board member and treasurer of the largest whitefish conference in the world, the Groundfish Forum, which is headquartered in Canada.

“I am excited to take up the chairmanship of SADSTIA,” said Ratheb. “The hake deep-sea trawl fishery is a South African success story – it is sustainable, highly transformed and makes a massive socio-economic contribution, especially in the coastal provinces. I am eager to represent the fishery and the interests of our members.”

SADSTIA is one of the most influential organisations in the local fishing industry owing to the fact that its 32 members generate approximately half of the value of South Africa’s fishery production. These companies catch, process and export a range of value-added hake products and also supply a competitive local market with fresh and frozen hake. Together, SADSTIA members directly employ an estimated 7 225 employees, while an additional 6 000 indirect jobs are created by the economic activity that the fishery generates.

Ratheb explains that the hake trawl fishery is currently being re-assessed for a fourth time by the Marine Stewardship Council, the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable, wild-caught fish. The fishery was first certified as sustainable by the MSC in 2004. Although the MSC standard that is being applied is more rigorous than the standard that has been applied over the past 16 years, SADSTIA is optimistic the fishery will be re-certified for a further five-year period early in 2021.

Other priorities for SADSTIA over the coming year will be working collaboratively with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the fishery, with the goal of preserving jobs.

“This pandemic will have affected every one of our members, and company balance sheets will have been severely weakened. The industry needs to survive this because it is a large employer providing quality jobs in coastal towns, and it is a significant exporter,” said Ratheb.

Innocent Dwayi, employee and stakeholder relations manager at I&J, remains in the position of SADSTIA vice-chairman. He is also vice-chairman of the umbrella fisheries association FishSA.

Other members of the SADSTIA Executive Committee are Madoda Khumalo, strategic services executive at Sea Harvest, who chairs the SADSTIA Scientific Committee; Don Lucas, chief executive of Combined Fishing Enterprises; Jayesh Jaga, executive director responsible for the hake operations within Blue Continent Products (Oceana Group); and Terence Brown, operations director at Sea Harvest.

Johann Augustyn continues in his position as secretary of SADSTIA, taking responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Association. He is assisted by Fisokuhle Mbatha, SADSTIA research assistant.

SADSTIA was founded in 1974, originally with three members. It has played a central role in the growth and development of the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and the South African fishing industry in general.

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

Study highlights the role of the environment in the life cycle of deep-water hake

A recently published study has shed new light on the life cycle of deep-water hake Merluccius paradoxus, the species of Cape hake that accounts for approximately 85% of the catches of the deep-sea trawl fishery.

The study “Oxygen and temperature influence the distribution of deepwater Cape hake Merluccius paradoxus in the southern Benguela: a GAM analysis of a 10-year time-series”, was published in the African Journal of Marine Science. It was authored by SADSTIA research assistant, Fisokuhle Mbatha, and co-authors Dawit Yemane, Marek Ostrowski, Coleen Moloney and Marek Lipiński.

The study found that the environment plays an important role in regulating the distribution of different size classes of hake: the amount of dissolved oxygen in water close to seabed is the most important factor for small (≤15 cm) hake, whereas temperature is the most important variable for medium (16 cm to 34 cm) and large (≥35 cm) hake.

“The small M. paradoxus were associated with narrow ranges of oxygen concentrations and temperature. The medium M. paradoxus occurred in water with a narrow temperature range, having reduced occurrence at both the cool and warm ends of the measured range; they were also associated with moderate to high oxygen concentrations. The large hake occurred in water masses that were relatively cool and had elevated dissolved oxygen concentrations.”

This finding, when combined with other published information, suggests that the Orange Banks provide an important nursery ground for juvenile deep-water hake. The Orange Banks is an area of the continental shelf located near the international border between South Africa and Namibia (see map).

A map of the Benguela region shows the locations of the key events in the lifecycle of deep-water hake Merluccius paradoxus.

SADSTIA research assistant Fisokuhle Mbatha is lead author of the study.

Although the Orange Banks has not yet been comprehensively studied, Mbatha et al. propose that juvenile deep-water hake take advantage of the relatively stable environmental conditions on the banks, where they find an abundance of suitable prey. Importantly, adults of both deep-water hake and shallow water hake are relatively scarce on the Orange Banks. This means that juvenile deep-water hake are safe from adult shallow water hake which are cannibalistic and routinely feed on juvenile deep-water hake.

Mbatha et al. suggest that the size and position of the nursery grounds for deep-water hake on the Orange Banks vary according to the area in which oxygen concentrations on the seabed are ideal.

Their study was informed by data collected over a period of 10 years from the research ship Dr Fridjof Nansen, which is operated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The ship surveyed the waters of South Africa in 2003 and from 2005 to 2013.

The authors draw on the Dr Fridtjof Nansen survey data and knowledge of the lifecycle of deep-water hake published in four other studies. They confirm that the species spawns predominantly in South Africa, mainly on the western Agulhas Bank, from August to October.

The southwesterly winds that are so ubiquitous on the west coast during the summer months, play an important role because they drive the currents that transport hake larvae northwards towards the Orange Banks.

The study found that small deep-water hake generally occur on the continental shelf, in a band extending from Cape Point to the Orange River, while medium individuals displayed the widest distribution, reflecting their tolerance of a wider range of temperature and dissolved oxygen values. They occur on the continental shelf and at the shelf edge, whereas large deep-water hake are mostly found in deeper water, at the edge.

According to the authors of the study, distribution patterns are linked to the biology of the hake: small fish cannot survive in deep water because there are too many predators there – they gradually move into the deep as they approach adulthood because they themselves become efficient predators.

The study Oxygen and temperature influence the distribution of deepwater Cape hake Merluccius paradoxus in the southern Benguela: a GAM analysis of a 10-year time-series is available for download from the African Journal of Marine Science.

Cameras show real potential for catch monitoring

This story was first published in Fishing Industry News.

Monitoring the catches of the deep-sea trawl fishery with cameras is not only efficient and affordable, but it has the potential to substantially improve the management of bycatch in the fishery, a new study has found.

The cameras that were mounted in the fish factory of a freezer trawler to test the application of cameras for monitoring bycatch in the deep-sea trawl fishery

You have to admire University of Cape Town Master’s student Michelle Lee. While her fellow students were out in the field emulating Sylvia Earle, a world-famous marine biologist, Lee was sitting in a darkened room watching thousands of hake and other deep-sea species roll over the conveyor of an on-board fish factory. Lee watched videos for weeks on end, timing herself so that she could evaluate the efficiency and cost of her work, and carefully counting and identifying the species other than hake that caught the camera’s electronic eye.

Lee’s study “Electronic monitoring in the South African demersal trawl industry and its use in monitoring communities commonly caught as bycatch” will be complete in June this year, but her results have already provided ample reward for her slog. Lee has shown that a good quality camera capable of recording and processing hundreds of hours of footage, can provide more accurate estimates of the composition and volume of the catch of demersal trawlers at a lower cost than the deployment of scientific observers on fishing trips.

Her study was undertaken with Colin Attwood, associate professor of biological sciences at UCT. It was funded and supported by the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) and WWF South Africa, which awarded Lee its prestigious Master’s Fellowship Grant.

Lee describes how her study began with a very practical dilemma – finding a camera that is capable of recording high quality images for an extended period of time (fishing trips can last up to 60 days), in an environment that is unstable and wet.

“The first system we used was one that was recommended to us, but the quality of the images was poor,” relates Lee. “There were issues with exposure because the fluorescent lights in the factory impact the colour of the image, and distort the images a little bit. The motion of the conveyor belt was also a major problem.”

Bryan Fitchat and Brandon Davids of Keep Electronics, experts in security cameras and access control, helped to solve the problem. As it turned out, the solution wasn’t a high-resolution camera, but a camera with good processing speed. Another solution was very simple to implement – making the fishers on board the vessel aware of the camera and asking them to be careful of it when cleaning the factory. Having an observer on board to clean the lens on a daily basis was also extremely helpful.

Once high-quality images started rolling onto Lee’s hard drives, she began the laborious process of analysing the footage.

“For every fishing trip I would select three randomly chosen 20-minute intervals – basically an hour a day,” she explains. “I would watch that hour and manually count all the fish that came from the unsorted line and the discards line. I’d identify each individual as closely as I could and I also estimated its length, relative to the width of the conveyor belt.”

The time Lee spent on each video was roughly equivalent to the 5% to 10% coverage of the fishing fleet that the current scientific observer programme achieves.

Her results show that the percentage of hake caught by a freezer trawler in the deep-sea trawl fishery is approximately 97%.

“On one video I counted 6 000 hake in 20 minutes,” says Lee, “what I am finding is that the percentage of hake caught is 97%. It’s very high. We’re catching hake very well. We’re very good at it.”

Bycatch consists primarily of monk, kingklip and jacopever – all of which are retained, processed and marketed to very good effect by the industry – but the footage does reveal a catch of several other species that are less well used and sometimes discarded.

The advantage of the camera system is that Lee was able to precisely identify and quantify these fish, whereas on-board observers typically count them as and when they occur in their samples, and classify them very broadly into families such as, for example, “dogfish” or “catshark”. Having more precise information makes it possible for scientists and fisheries managers to understand the numbers of each species that are landed by the fishery and, if necessary, put measures in place to control them. Such measures might include, for example, “move-on” rules that compel a skipper to fish elsewhere if the percentage of a certain species in a haul exceeds agreed limits, or the closure of specific fishing zones where the ratio of that species to hake is known to be high. Restrictions such as these are already in place for monk and kingklip.

The implications of Lee’s study are far reaching, as her supervisor Attwood explains:

“For identifying and quantifying bycatch, this is better than having an observer on board,” he says. “The other advantage is that monitoring is around the clock and you can go back (to the footage) and verify a piece of information because it’s captured on video.”

“There are some types of sampling that actually involve collecting fish and with cameras that won’t be done, so one has to look at some loss of functionality. But if it weren’t for that, the cameras certainly appear to be better than observers. They can monitor three places in the fish factory simultaneously, which an observer obviously can’t do.”

Attwood cautions that the results of Lee’s study don’t necessarily mean the observer programme will close and be replaced by onboard cameras. In fact, his advice to SADSTIA has been to wait until artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to analyse the videos. A company with global experience in the use of face recognition software has already indicated that identifying and counting fish is eminently possible with AI.

“AI is more than possible,” says Attwood, “it will dramatically reduce the number of people required to watch the videos – it will all be done by machine. If that’s the case, there’s no reason why we can’t watch every part of every video. If that happens then we’ve vastly improved, to the maximum extent.”

In the short- to medium-term it’s unlikely that the industry will see human observers phased out and cameras phased in. For one thing, there’s the issue of cost. Not so very long ago, the Offshore Resources Observer Programme was fully funded by government, but today SADSTIA carries all the costs of the deployment of observers on its vessels. Will the industry be expected to fund the roll out of cameras on its vessels too? And who would manage the analysis and storage of the data that is collected?

“It’s not as if overnight there’s going to be cameras everywhere,” notes Attwood, “it will be one ship at a time and observers might find themselves working on the smaller boats where it’s more difficult to install cameras.”

The fourth re-assessment of the South African trawl fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council is currently underway and ecosystem considerations such as the management of bycatch are more important than ever. For this reason alone it is encouraging to see SADSTIA working with the scientific community and using disruptive technology to develop and improve the systems in place to monitor and manage the fishery.

Stephen Dondolo has ambitious plans for Eyethu Fishing


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.

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.”

SADSTIA celebrates interns’ success

SADSTIA sponsored interns and their mentors are pictured at a recent valedictory ceremony

The opportunity to write reports, use mapping software, attend courses and visit fishing company installations were identified as some of the advantages of participating in the first intake of the SADSTIA Graduate Internship Programme which came to an end in April.

The programme provided 12-month internships to 20 young graduates, thanks to a partnership with the conservation organisation WWF South Africa and the Transport, Education and Training Authority (TETA).

The 20 interns, who hold a broad range of qualifications, including degrees in environmental science, aquaculture, human resources, political science and auditing, were placed at SADSTIA’s member companies, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, and at the offices of SADSTIA and its umbrella association, FishSA.

“Interns said they had benefited from working in a business environment, and had gained good experience by taking part in projects, interacting and networking with colleagues and being introduced to new fields such as risk assessment, or the maintenance of fishing vessels,” said Research Assistant, Fisokuhle Mbatha, who managed the first intake of the SADSTIA Graduate Internship Programme between April 2019 and March 2020.

The success of the first intake paves the way for SADSTIA to prepare for a second intake said the chairman of the Association, Terence Brown.

“There is a need to bring about change in the commercial fishing industry and the Graduate Internship Programme has helped to unlock by doors for young professionals, while simultaneously tackling the issue of graduate unemployment,” said Brown.

“SADSTIA is proud to have established the Graduate Internship Programme because it takes our members’ commitment to critical skills development to a new level.”

The first intake of the SADSTIA Graduate Internship programme represents an investment by SADSTIA members of R1.9 million.

Investing in tomorrow: A short film about the SADSTIA Graduate Internship Programme