The Historical and Current Role of Hake Fishing in South Africa

The fishing industry in South Africa provides employment to nearly 30 000 people in the formal business sector. A large number of people depend on the industry for their income. Deep-sea hake trawling plays an important role in the industry.

A closer look at hake fishing provides insight regarding the contribution deep-sea trawling makes to the food security and economic stability of the country, especially for the Western Cape.

Large employer and significant economic contributor

As many as 12 000 of these people are in some way or another involved with commercial hake fishing in the South African waters.

Sustainable practices at the heart of food security

Hake fishing has a long history in the country. The industry expanded quickly after World War I, but in the years after World War II overexploitation of South African marine resources by foreign trawlers put the fish resources under pressure.

The Soviet Union, Romania, Spain, East Germany and Japan among others sent their vessels to fish in the South African waters. With millions of fish caught annually during this period, the resources quickly dwindled. Something had to be done to protect the marine resources for future food security.

A United Nations convention led to the creation of the Law of the Sea, which made it possible for South Africa to set a 200 miles exclusive zone in which only local vessels could catch fish. The foreign vessels had to leave the South African waters. This made it possible for the fish stocks to recover. Further steps were taken with the introduction of quota systems, fishing rights and measures to reduce sea-bird mortality rates.

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) is the outcome of the effort to ensure sustainability in hake fishing. Sea Harvest is a member of the RFA and committed to the principles for which the RFA stands. These include among others:

  • Promotion and implementation of sustainable fishing practices.
  • Skills development within the industry in the implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management.
  • Minimising the effect of hake and related fishing practices on vulnerable and protected species.
  • Monitoring of the deep-sea trawling activities.
  • Submission of catch information.
  • Provision of necessary information to consumers for informed buying choices.
  • Creation of an audit trail that makes it possible to trace the fish products back through the supply chain to the original source.
  • Creation of safe work environments and upholding basic human rights in the operation of the fishery.

What is the role of the deep-sea trawling industry?

Around 84% of the catch in hake fishing is allocated to deep-sea trawling. This means deep-sea trawling fisheries are the largest employers in the South African hake fishing industry. The trawl area stretches from the South African border with Namibia to the Agulhas Bank close to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. Responsible trawling practices include measurements to minimise the risk of sea-bird deaths because of fishery activities.

With the wet-trawlers, fish caught are cleaned and stored on ice to ensure freshness. The catch is processed at land. With the freezer trawlers, cleaning and processing take place on board of the vessels. These practices provide for many job opportunities.

SADSTIA recently reported that the stocks for deep and shallow water hake are above the level considered as maximum sustainable yield. This means that the measurements taken and the commitment of the South African fisheries in ensuring sustainable usage of marine resources are working.

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) together with Total Allowable Effort (TAE) measurements have contributed to the sustainability of hake fishing in South Africa. With these and other efforts such as measurements to limit by-catch, reduce the effect of human activity on the environment, and traceability of products are at the heart of the success.

In conclusion

The Sea Harvest Group operates according to the various regulations and is proud to be part of the industry that has once again achieved MSC certification. With a well-regulated fishery and optimal monitoring of the measures and activities by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the hake fishing industry in South Africa continues to meet the demand for sustainably caught fish produce. 

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