Sunday, February 11, 2018

New Entrants to the SA Horse Mackerel Fishery: 1 Year On

In December 2016, the South African government took the brave step of expanding the South African horse mackerel fishery by granting fishing rights to new entrants for the first time this century. The last time mackerel rights were allocated back in 2005, it was decided to maintain the status quo in a bid to support the investments made up to then (including the introduction of a large Russian flagged mid-water trawl owned and operated by the Oceana Group) and on the understanding that the crop of right holders would begin to change the manner in which horse mackerel was fished, processed and marketed.

Over the duration of the long term fishing period, nothing in fact changed. The fishery continues to be dominated by a limited number of vessels (1 midwater trawler and a handful of hake trawlers that also target horse mackerel for their owners). On-land processing remains almost non-existent with minimal jobs created in factories in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

So, when 27 new entrant rights were allocated in December 2016, there was expectant hope that the fishery would open up to new and alternative fishing technologies, including the deployment of smaller vessels and greater on-land processing.

More than 12 months later, and most new entrants have either been forced to enter into exploitative agreements with traditional vessel owners or have elected to not activate their quotas at all. Because the traditional or "pioneer" operators in this fishery remain in control of the vessels, processing capacity and market access, new entrants have been denied the right to bring in alternative, smaller vessels that would permit them to exploit their quotas more efficiently and profitably.

New entrants who have elected to have their quotas caught by one of the pioneer companies, have been forced to accept a paltry R1/kg for their supposedly high-value quotas! They are denied the right to negotiate when their quotas are caught, how the fish is processed or where it is sold. They are also required to forsake any claim to valuable by-catch species.

They are nothing more than beholden paper quotas who apply for their annual permits and wait for the proverbial cheque in the mail.

This feudal system cannot be permitted to continue for the next 14 years.

The Department needs to proactively start supporting new entrants by -

  • facilitating access to alternative, smaller vessels;
  • providing new entrants who invest in vessels, processing technologies and/or market access for their own fish with subsidies via levy discounts;
  • negotiating access to markets in Southern Africa by, inter alia, introducing right holders to buyers and traders; and
  • supporting and funding an annual South African fish trade expo. 

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