Fishing Sustainability in South Africa

30 March 2021

Fishing Sustainability in South Africa Ensures Long-Term Job and Food Security

Over-exploitation of sea resources is a major concern. With the worldwide concern about the future of marine resources, local consumers have reason to enquire about fishing sustainability in South Africa.

According to the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi), as many as 312 billion tonnes of fish are consumed locally every year of which 50% comes from the local waters. Hake and sardines are the most caught and consumed ocean life.

What is the state of fishing sustainability in South Africa?

The good news is that South Africa’s fishing sustainability profile is excellent. One aspect of sustainability entails the ongoing economic contribution of an industry. The deep sea trawling industry, according to the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA), provides for more than R6,7 billion economic contribution annually. The annual sales from SADSTIA members (according to the SADSTIA fact sheet), amount to R4,5 billion. In terms of economic contribution, the South African deep sea fish trawling industry is sustainable. The country benefits from the R3 billion foreign exchange earnings annually as 67% of the catch is exported.

The hake trawling industry is a huge employer in the Western Cape. For every 1000 tonnes of fish caught, as many as 65 jobs are created. The industry meets the sustainability requirement when it comes to ongoing job creation and social responsibility proven by the 7 300 people employed by SADSTIA members. As many as 72% of the jobs created in the industry are permanent. The industry also meets sustainability requirements in terms of job creation and social-economic contributions.

Environmental profile: how does the industry perform in terms of certification?

The most important question is whether the resources are responsibly managed, and here too, the industry is doing exceptionally well. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has certified the South African hake trawl industry. The MS is the leading eco-labelling programme and best recognised certification body to confirm sustainability of the wild-catch seafood industry. The fact that the South African fishing industry has been recertified for a fourth time (February 2021) serves as proof of the industry’s ongoing commitment to responsible usage of natural resources.

The certification is valid for a period of five years, after which the industry must undergo re-certification. The certification assessment takes place over a year, with consideration of the management for the entire fishing industry of the country.

The three main pillars of assessment are:

  • Fish population – is the population stable enough to ensure fishing can continue in future?
  • Environmental impact – how is the environmental impact managed to ensure the lowest activity footprint on the habitat, the specific species targeted, and the related species?
  • Management – how is the industry managed to ensure low environmental impact, compliance with the relevant laws, and adaptability to changes in the environment?

See the 2021 MSC assessment here.

What about by-catch?

A valid concern is the number of non-targeted species caught in the trawling process. That said, the by-catch forms an integral part of the fishing industry. Many types of fish and seafood regularly consumed, come from the by-catch. To minimise the risk of species depletion, SADSTIA has taken measures such as upper-catch limits for monk and kingklip. These two fish species are mostly exported, providing for excellent foreign exchange earnings.

What about trawling in eco-sensitive areas?

Another initiative is the ring-fence system whereby SADSTIA members only trawl in currently used areas. Where members want to trawl outside these areas, they need an environmental permit. Special software is used by the trawler skippers to track movements to ensure the trawlers don’t trawl outside the specified areas.

What about the impact on seabirds?

Fishing sustainability in South Africa is furthered with compulsory usage of bird scare lines, known as tori lines at the beginning of the trawl. In addition, the trawl lines are lubricated and the joins must be trimmed. No oval is released while the trawlers winch. These measures have proven to be effective. Since the introduction thereof, a significant drop in albatross deaths due to trawling activity has been reported. Several measures are in place to significantly reduce the interaction of birds with the trawlers.

Sea Harvest goes the extra mile

Sea Harvest and other leading deep-sea trawling members of SADSTIA are also members of the Responsible Fishing Alliance (RFA), enabling them to work alongside conservation groups such as the WWF and Birdlife SA in conservation projects.

Consumers can also make use of the Sassi list label initiative for information on which products are caught in a sustainable manner and which species are endangered.

Final verdict of the industry’s sustainability profile

Superb progress has been made regarding fishing sustainability in South Africa, ensuring ongoing job creation, economic viability of the industry and conservation of food security and natural resources.



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