International workshop reviews the operational management procedure for hake

Four international scientists worked with their South African counterparts at the University of Cape Town in late November to, among other things, review the operational management procedure (OMP) that has been proposed to recommend a total allowable catch for the hake fishery for the next four years.

The scientists are Sean Cox of Canada, Sarah Gaichas and André Punt of the United States of America, and Malcolm Haddon of Australia.

The International Stock Assessment Review Workshop is an annual event that is convened by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF) and the Marine Resource Assessment and Management (MARAM) Group at UCT’s Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. It is funded by DAFF and the National Research Foundation and it performs a peer review function by providing local fisheries scientists with an opportunity to subject their stock assessment techniques and findings to the scrutiny of international experts in the field.

Last year’s workshop determined that stocks of deep-water hake and shallow-water hake are “above maximum sustainable yield” and catches are sustainable over time. This was confirmed by the surveillance audit conducted by the Marine Stewardship Council in May 2018.

Download the final report of the International Stock Assessment Review Workshop 2018.

Case study documents the successful rebuilding of the South African hake resource

The experience of rebuilding the South African hake resource following its depletion by foreign fishing fleets in the 1960s and 1970s, and the management of the deep-sea trawl fishery since the 1980s, is documented in an important scientific Technical Paper published earlier this year.

“Rebuilding of Marine Fisheries” was jointly prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Fisheries Expert Group of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management. The paper presents an extensive global review of the concept and practice of fishery stock rebuilding and includes a number of case studies on rebuilding initiatives that have taken place in different parts of the world for a variety of fisheries.

Leading South African scientists Johann Augustyn, Andrew Cockroft, Janet Coetzee, Deon Durholtz and Carl van der Lingen contributed a chapter to the Technical Paper. Johann Augustyn is secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association and his co-authors are fisheries scientists working for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Their chapter is entitled “Rebuilding South African fisheries: three case studies”. It documents efforts to rebuild the deep-water hake, sardine and west coast rock lobster resources which have been subject to varying levels of depletion over time and achieved different degrees of success as a result of stock rebuilding efforts.

In the case of the hake resource, the incursion by foreign fishing fleets in the 1960s led to stock depletion and declining declining catch rates by 1972. The turning point was the declaration by South Africa of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in November 1977. This resulted in the exclusion of foreign vessels from local waters and is considered to be the start of the process of rebuilding the hake resource. Individual fishing rights or quotas were allocated for the first time in 1979.

Since 1990, the hake fishery has been managed by an operational management procedure (OMP), a system that utilises industry catch records and the results of annual research surveys and applies a set of pre-determined harvest control rules to recommend an annual total allowable catch.

The case study documents how the hake OMP has adapted over the years to accommodate fluctuations in the hake stock, changing fishing practices and new knowledge about the behavior of the stock. For example, in 2006 stock assessments indicated that several years of poor recruitment for both deep-water (Merluccius paradoxus) and shallow-water hake (Merluccius capensis) had resulted in a decline in biomass. At the time, the shallow-water hake stock was in relatively good condition, but there were concerns that the deep-water hake stock had declined to below maximum sustainable yield (MSY), a measure that aims to maintain a balance between the natural growth of a stock and the volume removed from it by fishing.

The case study demonstrates that the OMP has yielded positive results, with the decline in the spawning biomass of deep-water hake having reversed and stocks of shallow-water hake being fished well above MSY.

Today stocks of both deep water hake and shallow water hake are considered to be “above MSY”. This means the growth of the stocks is in balance with fishing activity and current catch levels are sustainable over time.

An increase in the annual total allowable catch is expected for the 2019 fishing season which begins on 1 January 2019.

SADSTIA creates new opportunities for graduates

In November, the assessment and selection of applicants for 10 internship positions was well underway following a September announcement that the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) is to sponsor 10 paid and structured internships in the field of environmental science over the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

The internships form part of WWF’s highly successful Graduate Internship Programme. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is a third partner in the initiative.

“Our members recognise that youth unemployment is one of the most serious challenges facing South Africa today and the SADSTIA/DAFF/WWF Graduate Internship Programme provides us with an opportunity to make a real difference and assist government,” said Terence Brown, chairman of SADSTIA. “We hope the programme will give individuals an opportunity to gain valuable work experience, link to professional networks and possibly establish a career in the fishing industry.”

Seven of the 10 SADSTIA/DAFF/WWF interns will be placed at fishing companies that are members of SADSTIA, and three will be placed at the Fisheries Branch of DAFF.

Since its launch in 2011, the WWF Graduate Internship Programme has grown considerably in scope and impact and to date 128 interns have participated in the programme. Interns are selected from 20 universities situated all over the country – from the University of Venda in the north, to the University of Zululand in the east and the historically significant University of Fort Hare, to name a few.

According to Glenda Raven, director of the WWF Graduate Internship Programme, the inclusiveness and wide geographical spread of the annual intake of interns has enabled WWF to meet one of the programme’s key objectives – to attract diversity to the environmental field.

Of the 128 interns who have participated in the WWF Graduate Internship Programme, 76% of have moved directly into permanent jobs and 81% are employed in the environment sector. Those who are employed outside the environment sector often fulfill an environmental function in their jobs; for instance, a job as a sustainability manager in the retail sector. Another interesting fact is that 15% of those who have participated in the WWF Graduate Internship Programme have gone back to university; eight former interns are currently studying at doctoral (PhD) level.

“The partnership with SADSTIA and DAFF is a significant milestone in the evolution of the WWF Graduate Internship Programme,” said Raven, “I would like to think that this is the point at which we begin working with many other organisations to expand the programme. I see this as the catalyst.”

Once they are selected to participate in the SADSTIA/DAFF/WWF Graduate Internship Programme, graduates and their mentors attend orientation and training courses so that they are clear about their respective roles and responsibilities.

Pictured at the launch of the SADSTA/DAFF/WWF Graduate Internship programme are (from left) Johann Augustyn, secretary of SADSTIA; Madoda Khumalo, strategic services executive at Sea Harvest and head of SADSTIA’s Scientific Committee; Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa;  Fisokuhle Mbatha, SADSTIA research assistant; Glenda Raven, director of the WWF Graduate Internship Programme; Belemani Semoli, acting director general of the Fisheries Branch of DAFF; Sue Middleton, chief director of Fisheries Operations Support in the Fisheries Branch of DAFF; Terence Brown, operations director of Sea Harvest and chairman of SADSTIA; and Saasa Pheeha, acting chief director of Fisheries Research & Development in the Fisheries Branch of DAFF.

SADSTIA website goes live


SADSTIA scores a hat trick!

Newsletter No.1 May 2015

The SA Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association, SADSTIA, is delighted to announce that it has achieved a “hat trick”, having received accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for the third time.

The MSC is the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable wild-caught seafood. In 2004 the South African hake trawl fishery became the first hake fishery in the world to be certified by the MSC as “sustainable and well managed.” The fishery was re-assessed and re-certified for a five-year period in 2010 and today SADSTIA received word that, after a rigorous 12-month re-assessment process, it has achieved accreditation for a further five years.

Read the certification report here…

Good news for South Africa

“The re-certification is an important achievement for the trawl fishery and very good news for South Africa,” said Dr Johann Augustyn, secretary of SADSTIA.

“Recent economic studies have shown that securing the health of the trawl fishery has prevented the loss of up to 12 000 jobs within the fishing industry and growing demand (particularly in northern Europe) for certified sustainable seafood products has resulted in the expansion of export markets worth US$197 million (R2.24 billion).

Economic studies have shown that by fishing sustainably, the trawl fishery has effectively retained as many as 12 000 jobs. (Photo courtesy of Sea Harvest)

Economic studies have shown that by fishing sustainably, the trawl fishery has effectively retained as many as 12 000 jobs. (Photo courtesy of Sea Harvest)

“Over the past year, an independent certification agency scrutinized every aspect of the management of the South African trawl fishery and once again found it to comply with the MSC’s main principles. These are:

  • a fishery is conducted in such a way that it does not lead to over fishing or a decrease in the stock;
  • fishing operations do not impact on the health of the marine ecosystem;
  • fishing is managed and regulated in a responsible way.

According to Tim Reddell, chairman of SADSTIA and a director of Viking Fishing, one of the advantages of holding MSC certification is that it has made trawler owners and operators more aware of the ways in which their vessels and operations interact with the environment.

“It has focused our attention on ensuring that we achieve the criteria of sustainable utilisation of the resource,” says Reddell.

Since the original MSC certification in 2004, improved fishing practices have resulted in major gains for the environment. For instance:

  • Trawl grounds have been “ring fenced” so as to prevent damage to lightly trawled areas and to protect natural refuges for hake. Trawling outside the ring-fenced zone requires an environmental impact assessment.
  • There has been a 99% reduction in the number of albatrosses that are accidentally injured and sometimes killed by trawl gear.
  • Clear limits have been set for bycatch species such as kingklip and monk − deep-sea species that are often caught in trawl nets with hake.
  • The industry is funding and supporting a ground-breaking, long-term research project that will examine the impacts of trawling on the marine environment. The research is being conducted in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the University of Cape Town and the South African Environmental Observation Network.
The South African trawl fishery has secured MSC accreditation for a further five years. (Photo courtesy of MSC South Africa)

The South African trawl fishery has secured MSC accreditation for a further five years. (Photo courtesy of MSC South Africa)

Excellent cooperation with government

Another aspect of MSC certification that is often overlooked is that accreditation requires excellent cooperation between industry and government. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has reaffirmed government’s support for the MSC certification of the South African trawl fishery.

“DAFF recognises the valuable economic contributions of the South African hake fishery to the country and is committed to ongoing collaboration with the industry to ensure continued responsible management of this important resource,” says Sue Middleton, chief director of Fisheries Operations Support at DAFF.

South Africa’s deep-sea trawl fishery is the only fishery in Africa to have achieved accreditation from the MSC. It is one of approximately 250 fisheries around the world that have been certified by the MSC. Together, MSC-certified fisheries currently catch about nine million metric tonnes of seafood annually – close to 10% of the total harvest from wild capture fisheries.

MSC to “pay back the money”

More good news for SADSTIA and its members is that 75% of the cost of the second re-assessment of the South African trawl fishery will be re-imbursed by the MSC.

This amounts to approximately R825 000.

“The refund is given in recognition of the fact that the fishery has met the MSC standard for over 10 years,” said SADSTIA secretary, Dr Johann Augustyn.

“Re-assessment is an expensive and time consuming process, but the rewards definitely justify the energy we expend to secure the MSC ecolabel.”

SADSTIA’s members are the 51 trawler owners and operators that deliver hake to fish & chip shops in every corner of South Africa; process and package fish fingers and other popular hake products for local supermarkets; and also supply a demanding international market with a range of value-added hake products. The prestigious MSC ecolabel gives SADSTIA’s members a competitive edge in the global market for groundfish.

The Safeguard our Seabed Coalition calls for a moratorium on seabed mining.

Newsletter No.2 October 2015

The Safeguard our Seabed Coalition, of which SADSTIA is a member, continues to call for a moratorium on seabed mining.

Letters that set out the Coalition’s opposition to bulk marine sediment mining were sent to the Ministry of Mineral Resources on 30 July, and to the ministries of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries and Environmental Affairs on October 2. To date, no response has been received from any of the ministries.

The threat of bulk marine sediment mining to the South African fishing industry cannot be overstated. Although very little is known about its actual impacts, studies suggest they could be considerable and irreversible. For instance, independent studies relating to the Sandpiper Project that was proposed in Namibia, raised serious concerns about the destruction of benthic habitats; direct harm to breeding, spawning, feeding and aggregation areas for many species of marine fishes; the impact of increased turbidity and sediment disturbance; and the release of hazardous substances, including radioactive materials, methane and hydrogen sulphide.

The Namibian government declared an 18-month moratorium on marine phosphate mining in September 2013 and after its expiry, the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources announced the moratorium will remain in place for a further three years, with possible further extension.

However, in South Africa, the prospect of bulk marine sediment mining looms large. Rights for marine phosphate prospecting in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) have been granted to three companies: Green Flash Trading 252 (Pty) Ltd; Green Flash Trading 257 (Pty) Ltd; and Diamond Fields International. The former two companies appear identical because they have the same directors and shareholding; the third company is listed in Toronto, Canada.

The rights held by these three entities extend over a considerable portion of the EEZ and together total more than 150 000 km2.

SADSTIA and its coalition partners believe that the extensive and invasive nature of marine phosphate extraction processes will devastate a substantial proportion of South Africa’s prime trawling grounds.

The process involves dredging the seabed and removing sediment at a rate of up to 100 000 m2 per day. A large dredging vessel could remove up to 5.5 million tonnes of sediment annually, equating to roughly 3 km2 per annum, or 90 km2 over the typical 30-year life of a mine. Excess water and fine particle would be released back into the water column and would almost certainly bury and smother marine habitats both within the mining area and adjacent to it. Experts believe the process has the potential to permanently alter and destroy the breeding, spawning and feeding of fish stock in the mined area, as well as in surrounding areas.

“It is unthinkable that the government would allow marine phosphate exploitation at the expense of South Africa’s future food security and employment,” said SADSTIA Secretary, Dr Johann Augustyn.

According to Augustyn, the prospecting areas coincide with, and will negatively impact on, a number of fisheries that provide significant numbers of jobs and earn valuable foreign exchange and taxes. These fisheries include the hake trawl and longline fisheries; the tuna pole fishery; the small pelagics fishery (anchovy and sardine); squid fishery; and the west coast and south coast rock lobster fisheries. Some 20 000 people are employed in these fisheries.

The jobs created by a seabed mining industry would in all probability be miniscule when compared to the jobs provided by the fishing industry. A feasibility study commissioned for a marine phosphate mining project in Namibia estimated the project would create only 150 full time jobs.

Other partners in the Safeguard our Seabed Coalition (SOSC) are FishSAResponsible Fisheries AllianceMasifundise Development TrustCentre for Environmental RightsWWF-SA and BirdLife SA.

Opposed to seabed mining? Stay in touch with the Safeguard our Seabed Coalition by liking the Facebook page

Memorial service to honour Lincoln victims

A memorial service to honour and remember the 12 men who lost their lives in September when the fishing trawler, MFV Lincoln, was overcome by heavy seas, will be held in Cape Town on Sunday 15 November 2015 at 12h00. The memorial will be held at the V&A jetty (directly opposite the Viking Fishing quay).


A fragmented fishing industry is bad for fish – and fishermen
By Tony Leiman and Johann Augustyn

In May this year, the deep-sea trawl fishery was awarded the holy grail of the international seafood industry: accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the world’s oldest and most respected seafood certification body. This is the third time South Africa’s deep-sea trawl fishery has secured certification from the MSC and in the latest assessment, the fishery scored highly for almost all the criteria against it was measured, and met the MSC standard for all.

However, in spite of the deep-sea trawling industry’s unquestionable success – both in terms of sustainability and competitiveness – there continue to be strident calls for its fragmentation. Most recently, Kholiswa Mnisi and Bongisa Lekezwa, in a paper delivered to the Competition Commission, argued that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) should use the forthcoming renewal of long-term fishing rights (due in 2020) to fragment access to fishing resources. More particularly they suggested that DAFF should actively oppose the industry’s natural tendency to consolidation:

During the 2020 review of fishing rights, DAFF has the opportunity to restructure the industry by breaking (the) path dependency of reconsolidation that the industry has been locked in. In the short run such an approach may cause job losses, however the long run ownership and economic participation would be diverse.

This is not the first such call and is unlikely to be the last. However, in order to demonstrate the dimensions of the problem posed by such proposals, it is sensible to describe in full the characteristics of the South African hake trawl fishery.

Firstly, it is a “mature” fishery in which profits have long been based on sustainable harvesting rather than mining down the resource stock. All “get rich quick” opportunities are long gone and the industry’s members have demonstrated a mature willingness to sacrifice short-term yields for long-term stability.It was the industry itself that initiated the costly and time consuming process of achieving recognition by the MSC, and in the past 10 years it has addressed many of the concerns raised in the original MSC certification process: bycatch (the catching of species other than hake) is better managed than ever before; interactions between trawl gear and seabirds have been drastically reduced; historical trawl grounds are now ring-fenced to confine the impact of trawling; and the industry is part funding a long-term studyinto the impacts of trawling on the marine ecosystem. Indeed, the industry’s focus on corporate responsibility is increasingly translating into an assumption of responsibility for the well-being of the ecosystem.

Since 2006, the industry has had the security of long-term rights. Government allocated long-term (15 year) rights to 49 right-holders, later raised to 51 after the close of the appeals process. Very quickly, these right-holders formed themselves into first nine and then eight, de facto groupings. The level of concentration is consequently high: the three largest clusters hold 75.7% of the quota and operate 70% of the 50 vessels in regular use, and only one cluster has under 5% of available quota.

The reasons for this clustering are not hard to find. It has three fundamental drivers. The simplest is the need to spread risk. With a single vessel a company carries all of its risk itself; however, if three such firms form a quota-sharing cluster owning three vessels, if one boat is unable to leave harbour, the week’s catch does not fall by 100% but by 33%.

Economies of scale are also clear to see; bigger is often more efficient. A simple physical example demonstrates the issue: one can double the size of a vessel without doubling the steel that goes into it,the crew needed to run it, or the size of its engine room, hence one more than doubles its storage capacity and less than doubles its mass (and possibly its cost). The resulting longer vessel moves more easily through the water and runs at a lower cost per ton of landed fish. At company level the same is seen: overheads can be spread as output rises. E.g. management costs are unlikely to double if production is doubled. Again, as a group’s output rises so its average costs will fall.

Economies of scope are a trickier, but equally important, concept. The wider the range of products one can produce, the more market niches one can fill and the longer and steeper the value chains at one’s disposal. If one looks at the two largest companies operating in the sector, the effect of size on the value chain becomes clear. A glance at their website showed one firm providing twenty-four processed hake products in addition to the conventional offerings of chilled or frozen gutted fish, while the range offered by the other was similar. Smaller operations cannot match such product diversity. The size and broad range of the target markets to which these value chains allow access helps inoculate larger firms against market and exchange rate risks. Not only is their return per ton of quota typically greater, it is also less risky, and because shore-based processing is involved, it is also more labour intensive, increasing job opportunities for the local population.

Why has this apparently irrational desire to fragment the fishing industry arisen, and why is it so commonly expressed?

Three reasons seem to lie at the heart of the problem. One, the common perception that the fishing industry is untransformed, is easily disposed of. The three biggest firms in the industry are either public companies themselves, or components in public conglomerates. However, the biggest shareholders in South Africa are pension funds holding assets on behalf of a racially mixed workforce, the management and senior staff of the fishing companies have long been similarly mixed.

The second reason is the innate fear of monopoly power and unjust pricing. This fear is not relevant to an industry that exports most of its catch and whose products have numerous close substitutes.

It is the third reason that is most difficult to overcome, for it is based on the old lie that giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, but teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime.

The reality is cruelly different: letting more and more people fish merely condemns them to poverty. To increase fishers’ incomes one has to increase their catch per unit effort, and that means enlarging the stock of fish. More small firms will mean a race to deplete the stock, typically breaking the rules that regulate fish mortality along the way. To have firms whose individual incentives are compatible with maximising industry level profits one needs a collusive oligopoly with long-term rights. It is not surprising that the competition commission shudders at the notion, but it is imperative that they think seriously about the situation.

DAFF would like to see a stable resource that yields the maximum possible sustainable profit. They cannot manage the fish in the sea, but they can manage the fishers. That task is eased when the incentives facing fishers are aligned with the imperatives of fisheries managers. As experience has shown, this is achieved by the allocation of stable long-term rights to a few large groups; clustering provides economies. Any attempt to fragment the industry will encourage irresponsible short-term rent seeking. The current condition of such formerly high-value inshore sectors as abalone and west coast rock lobster shows what happens when access is fragmented and rights are insecure. The warning should be clear to all.

Tony Leiman is associate professor in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town.

Johann Augustyn is secretary of the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association.