Investment is the key to success

With a small quota and a strong drive to participate fully in the catching, processing and sale of Cape hake, Celeste Diest has built Impala Fishing into a highly regarded trawling business.

Ask Celeste Diest how she got her start in fishing and she will tell you about running errands for her father, Harry Cottle, a “coloured” entrepreneur who through sheer determination established a fishing business during apartheid.

“I had to go and buy the supplies for the vessel,” recalls Celeste. “When they were doing (safety) surveys and things like that, I had to go and order the paint. Those were the kind of things I had to do: shore skippering, paying the crew. That’s was how I started out, by doing the little things.”

Celeste’s reminiscences are tinged with sadness because she learnt about fishing by working closely with her father and it was his sudden and unexpected death in 2002 that propelled her into a role of immense responsibility.

“It wasn’t easy to step into his shoes, but there was no other way,” she reflects. “You just have to pick yourself up and do what you have to do; it wasn’t just our family’s livelihood at stake, there were 40 other people working for us and their families also had to survive”.

Those who are familiar with the growth and success of Impala Fishing will know that Celeste has done more than simply survive in the fishing industry. With the help of her family, she has grown Impala Fishing into an admired company. This is even more remarkable when one considers that Impala Fishing holds only a small quota in the capital-intensive hake deep-sea trawl (HDST) fishery.

Without a viable quota, Celeste had no choice but to enter into a joint venture with three other small rights holders. However, the joint venture proved less than satisfactory because the catching, processing and marketing of Impala Fishing’s hake quota took place at arm’s length.

“I always wanted to have more participation in the trawl fishery,” says Celeste. “We had lots of participation in the small pelagic fishery – we own our own vessels there too – but in our previous joint venture, we didn’t participate enough in the running of the company.”

The turning point came in 2008 when Impala Fishing and two other small rights holders purchased a fresh fish trawler in Namibia. Impala Fishing owns a 50% stake in the 28.2m, 2 621 GRT wetfish trawler Okombahe and the company takes responsibility for the administration of the vessel; the partners in the vessel owning company manage vessel maintenance and crewing.

“Taking the decision to purchase the vessel was something I did on my own. All the other vessels were purchased while my dad was alive. It was quite a big step,” she says. Ownership of Okombahe has facilitated Impala Fishing’s complete and meaningful participation in the HDST fishery.

Asked about the challenges facing small rights holders in the HDST fishery – one of the most industrial fisheries in South Africa – Diest answers that it is having to be dependent on other rights holders. Impala Fishing and other small fishing companies do not have sufficient scale to invest in shore facilities and infrastructure. This means they have to depend on larger fishing companies to conduct rudimentary operations, such as discharging a vessel or taking on ice.

Both Celeste’s children, Natasha and Kurt Diest, work in the family fishing business and over the years Celeste has become more comfortable with her role as Chief Executive of Impala Fishing.

“There are challenges every day so you’re never in a comfort zone where you can relax, but I’m more confident doing what I do,” she says.

Asked about her hopes for Impala Fishing in the rights allocation process scheduled for 2021, Celeste answers simply:

“I hope that our investment and meaningful participation counts for something.”