Benguela Frontal Nino Havoc

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By Surihe Gaomas SWAKOPMUIND Nami-bia suffered a severe socio-economic setback when pelagic fish stocks declined drastically in 1994 and 1995, and has never fully recovered. The situation that was caused by the Benguela Frontal Nino weather phenomenon resulted not only in the reduction of the marine fish resources, but also job losses, fleet reductions and in the year 2002 operations were even brought to a standstill. Presenting a research paper at the Angola-Benguela Regional Front Workshop underway in Swakopmund yesterday, University of Namibia researcher Kevin Stephanus said both Namibia and Angola have been experiencing losses in their fish stocks due to the Benguela Frontal Nino phenomenon, a body sea of warm and cold water masses merging together, leading to the warming of the waters and lack of oxygen. While in the 1970s 1,4 million tonnes of pelagic fish were caught every year, this number plummeted to a virtual zero in 1995 and has remained at just under 20 000 per annum ever since. Furthermore, statistics indicate that the offshore workforce declined from 493 to 173 in 2004 and the loss of jobs at canneries further impacted badly on the thousands of affected families. “Some labourers were even redeployed to other sectors where seasonal workers were simply dispensed of, with other workers,” said Stephanus. However, this at the time was not viewed as a severe loss of jobs for the fishing sector in the country. He suggested that more research is needed, as there is no study conducted on the “coping strategies of fishers” in this regard. On the issue of fleet, this also took a downward trend from 42 in 1996 to 16 in 2004. Vessels were only licensed to fish in Angolan waters and the remaining fleet were only active for a couple of days a week. For both Namibia and its northern neighbour Angola, pelagic fish are seen as vital economic commodities. However, due to the external factors of the warming up of the seawater by the Benguela Front, authorities were forced to take action. In 2002 the Minister of Fisheries Dr Abraham Iyambo declared a zero Total Allowable Catch in order to recover the available fish stocks of the country. “Operations were brought to a standstill in 2002 due to this moratorium.” However, the sector showed slight signs of improvement later as two canning factories were opened in 2004. Meanwhile, in Angola, the government also put a three-year ban on the trawling of horse mackerel in the southern waters of that country. Yet concerns were raised at the workshop that no major recovery has been seen in this fish species since the ban took effect in 2002. “We don’t see any recovery,” said Filomena Vaz Velho of the National Institute of Fisheries Research in Angola when she was talking about pelagic resources in the Angolan waters recently. Up until the end of yesterday, close to 70 local and international scientists and experts in the marine world met at the coastal town of Swakopmund to determine the state of the ocean and the way forward. The event this week was held for experts to have a much better understanding of the changing physical, biological and chemical oceanography of the sea, which would further aid in mitigating severe losses of marine life as experienced in the years of 1994/1995.