Fisheries’ Closure Sparks New Fears

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By Francis Mukuzunga WINDHOEK Namibia’s fishing industry, once described as the ocean basket of southern Africa, may be set to recover from its slump and reclaim its coveted title, but that will take a while as the industry struggles to restock. A visit by New Era to Walvis Bay last week encountered fears that the industry may be heading for trouble again as nearly every fish processing facility was closed down for the remainder of the month. Players within the industry however shot this down and attributed the temporary closure to the breeding season, or putting it mildly, to a recovery period. Companies such as Fishing Company, Freddie Fish Processors and Hangana Sea Foods were closed, with notices that they would reopen in November. “I fear for my job as I’m not sure my vessel will be allowed to fish this season,” said Frans Shikongo, a fisherman who works for a company that closes down at this time of the year. Should the situation continue like this, Shikongo might be out of employment as his company’s fishing quota has been cut. The consequences of unemployment for a man like him may be too hard to contemplate, given that he has a large family and is yet to pay off his home at the Mondesa location in Swakopmund. Shikongo is one of the many people who are employed directly or indirectly by the fisheries industry and who will find the months of October and November tough to get through as their salaries and allowances will be cut. Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Kilus Nguvauva, yesterday told New Era that the closure of fish processing plants is a result of a government decree that ordered October a no fishing month so that fish stocks can recover. “At first, we wanted the two months, of October and November, but later we came to an agreement with the industry that there would be no fishing only in October,” he said. While attributing dwindling marine resources to illegal and over-fishing, especially during the pre-independence era, Nguvauva said the stocks would have to recover. In this respect, he says, the government has come up with a conservation programme that will see a steady improvement of the stock. If the programme succeeds, then the industry is expected to grow on the right path. He adds that unless all players take part, the recovery process would be but a tall order. Addressing the annual meeting of Traditional Council Leaders in Windhoek yesterday, Nguvauva told delegates that before independence, there was no proper fisheries management in place as Namibia’s fish resources were managed by the International Commission for Southern Atlantic Fisheries while on the other hand stocks were over-fished and there was illegal fishing practices going on. “At Namibia’s independence, fisheries management plans in the form of fishing rights and fishing quotas were implemented. Initially, the terms of fishing rights were granted to rights holders for four, seven and ten years,” he said. “The terms of fishing rights have been adjusted to 4-7, 7-10, 10-15-year periods. An additional 20-year term was introduced in 2000 for companies employing up to 5 000 permanent workers onshore,” he added. Currently, there is no company that has yet qualified for the 20-year quota. The ministry on a pro-rata basis allocates the quotas every fishing season. There are a total of 145 rights holders presently in Namibia. Nguvauva said that the government had introduced aquaculture or fish harvesting projects in some regions inland to counter the current shortage, but benefits from these were yet to be felt. Some sectors have also blamed the dwindling fish stocks on the high number of quotas allocated to private companies, while on the other hand, the government blames the high seal colonies in some coastal regions. Fish is the main diet for seals and they compete with human beings for fish. The result is that a controlled seal-culling process has been introduced and quotas are also allocated to seal-harvesting companies who trade in the by-products of seal meat and fur. Recent reports have indicated mass deaths of seals along the coast, especially at Cape Cross. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources says it will conduct an aerial survey to determine whether the seals are dying of starvation or viral infection. Environmentalists however have been watching closely. They say seal clubbing is an inhumane treatment of animals and that the industry should let nature take its course. In the meantime, the war of survival between man and animal continues.