Fisheries – the Big Success Story [interview]

Namibia’s fishing industry remains the country’s second most prevalent export earner of foreign currency after mining. The sector plays a significant role in terms of production, employment, foreign exchange earnings and government revenue. The overall business environment within the fishing industry has improved during the 20122013 season and most commercial fisheries experienced an increase in market prices as a result of different economic factors. This goes with the substantial improvement in fish size, which has led to favourable market prices for some fish and fish products.

This week Senior Business Journalist, Edgar Brandt, sat down with the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernard Esau, to take an in-depth look at this important industry.

In a nutshell, what is the state of Namibia’s fishing sector?

Bernard Esau (BE): “Most of our commercially important fish stocks are showing some positive signs of recovery, although there is still a need to rebuild stocks to maximum sustainable yield levels in order to ensure optimal contribution of fishery resources to the national economy.

“Namibia’s fishing industry remains the country’s second prevalent export earner of foreign currency after mining. The sector plays a significant role in terms of production, employment, foreign exchange earnings and government revenue. The overall business environment within the fishing industry has improved during the 20122013 season and most commercial fisheries experienced an increase in market prices as a result of different economic factors. This, attached to the substantially improved fish size, led to favourable market prices for some fish and fish products.

“It is evident that there were considerable improvements in most fisheries during the 2012 and 2013 fishing seasons. New rights holders and operators were introduced and increases in total allowable catches were experienced. Increases in the annual catch capacity and exceptionally good catches and improved size continued to prevail. Even for fisheries where new rights were not introduced, exceptionally good catches were recorded and the quotas were fully landed, which were attributed to increases in the number of vessels operating.”

Is enough being done to sustainably harvest Namibia’s fisheries and marine resources?

“Namibia’s management of her marine resources since independence has been a success story on most levels. Not only has the country provided the legislative framework to ensure environmental sustainability, while at the same time achieving economic growth, but it has also been able to monitor and enforce its laws well.

The fishing industry has grown to be one of the most significant employment creators in Namibia.

“Apart from pilchards, most fish stocks are replenishing. Conservation measures implemented since 1990 appear to be successful in reducing the rapid decline seen in most stock levels in the 1970’s and ’80’s.

“The Namibian management regime for marine capture fisheries consists of a number of components and each plays a part in contributing to the fisheries management goals. Key features include limited access through setting fishing rights, establishing total allowable catches for all major commercial species, allocation of individual quotas and a system of fees. In this regard I can proudly say that enough is being done from the government’s side to ensure sustainable utilization of our fisheries and marine resources.

Is the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources satisfied with the amount of local value addition (processing) being done?

“Value addition is one important aspect on the ministry’s agenda and is one of the challenges that the ministry faces. However, the ministry at all times encourages right holders to value-add the fish to create job opportunities and increase their income. In most fisheries such as hake, pilchard, crab, monk and rock lobster the value addition aspect is satisfactory with the exception of horse-mackerel and large pelagic, for which the ministry introduced a 2 per cent horse-mackerel quota to be directed to value addition for the 2014 allocations.

“This percentage should be directed to the horse-mackerel cannery as part of the horse-mackerel value addition canning initiatives.”

Previously Namibian fish created more jobs in Spain and Portugal. What is being done and what measures are being put in place to ensure Namibian fish creates more jobs for Namibians?

“The issue of creating jobs outside Namibia is a perception. In Namibia we have a deliberate policy of 70 per cent of the hake quota allocated to be processed on land and 30 per cent is processed offshore.

This deliberate policy is to ensure employment creation and to tackle the aspect of value addition within the country. I can again complement your question with the number of on-land factories that are grouped according to their fishery:

There are a total of 34 factories altogether in the fishing industry.

“It is worth noting that there are incentives where companies are urged to value-add their catches. The recent deliberations were made in horse-mackerel where right holders are engaged in canning the horse-mackerel which was not the case before.”

NE: Several fishing right holders often sell these rights to foreign companies i.e. there are current media reports of right holders squabbling in this regard. What is your ministry doing to address this issue?

“I should inform you that rights are non transferable, as stipulated in section 42, paragraph 1, of the Marine Resources Act of 2000. The Act states that “42. (1) No right or exploratory right may be transferred to another person except with the approval of, and subject to the conditions determined by the Minister.” So far I have not approved any transfers or sale of fishing, exploitation neither for exploratory right.”

In your view does the selling of fishing rights empower Namibians in the real sense of the word or isn’t this a short-term benefit? What is the ministry doing to ensure that as many Namibians benefit from the country’s marine and fisheries resources as opposed to only few people benefiting from this resource?

“We have a “Namibianization” policy that ensures that Namibians take up opportunities provided by development of the fisheries sector, and must be able to acquire skills through training to increase their role and involvement in the day-to-day business in the sector.

“We should remember that empowering someone is not a one-off exercise but rather a continuous one and most people tend to misinterpret this issue when seeing the companies entering into operational agreements with other companies that have vessels and processing facilities to utilize the allocated quota and this does not mean that the right or quota had been sold.”

Both local and foreign firms make a millions of dollars from Namibia’s rich marine ecosystem. Is your ministry satisfied with the amount being ploughed back into the country in terms of skills development in the sector, increase in genuine indigenous ownershiprepresentation in the sector, product diversification and general empowerment of Namibian communities?

“The fishing industry has made remarkable socio-economic contributions to the Namibian economy through various monetary support, donations and building of schools. This is indeed a good indication that players in the industry have continuous ability and willingness to build the Namibian communities through education, health and project development.

“One can never say that they are satisfied with the amount being ploughed back into the communities – however the ministry can applaud the industry for their unwavering support and honouring their corporate social responsibilities toward various communities.

“Fishing companies have embarked on a market diversification strategy over the past two years. It can evidently be seen in the hake fishery that is now shipping less than 40 per cent of their product to Spain. Previously, their Spanish customers would resell to Dutch, Portuguese and Italian clients. Now the two companies have taken out the Spanish middleman and are earning higher margins on their sales. Companies are also focusing on product diversification. Fish processors are increasingly trying to expand their product lines into already prepared products.”

Workers in the fishing industry have recently made allegations that they are among the most exploited workers in Namibia with some of them earning as little as N$700 to $1 800. What is your ministry doing to address this anomaly?

“As a ministry, we are not encouraging or supporting such exploitation, however this issue can be better dealt with by the ministry of labour and trade unions through collective bargaining.”

On fish consumption, previous statistics indicated the amount consumed in the country was only in a single digit, basically less than five per cent, and the rest of the fish and marine resources were being exported? What is the consumption figure currently like? And what species are in high demand among Namibians?

“Since independence, progress has been made in making fish available throughout Namibia, both by the private sector involved in catching and marketing fish, and by the government through campaigns and programmes to make fish more available and to encourage Namibians to eat more fish. These efforts are already yielding results. “Fish consumption is currently estimated at 12 kg per capita. All fish species, specifically hake and line fishery species are in demand within the country but excessive demand can be seen for horse-mackerel.”

Source : New Era