Fishcor Acting CEO Mike Nghipunya talks to Chief Political Reporter Mathias Haufiku on how the company, whose subsidiaries were so penniless they had to lay off 500 workers for months, turned around its fortunes.
Can you just give us a brief introduction on the structure of Fishcor?
Fishcor is a government vehicle aimed at creating local investment and at the same time play a commercial role in the fishing sector. The company had to set up base in Lüderitz after it was established soon after independence, because Walvis Bay was still in the hands of the former apartheid regime. The other reason why it had to be established in Lüderitz was because Lüderitz was becoming a ghost town at the time, hence its role was to promote economic activity in the town. Fishcor, as a holding company, consists of Seaflower Whitefish and Seaflower Lobster. Seaflower Lobster is owned fully by Fishcor while Seaflower Whitefish is owned 78 percent by Fishcor and 22 percent by the Governors’ Trust. Seaflower Whitefish operates in the hake industry and has a processing facility in Lüderitz, while Seaflower Lobster is the only company with an operating factory for lobsters in Namibia.
What fishing rights does Fishcor currently have and are there plans to acquire more rights?
When this company was created the system was clearly misunderstood because as a state company it [Fishcor] was not supposed to participate in the acquisition of rights because the rights belong to government. We have rights in lobster, monk, hake and large pelagic. Last year we started the process of changing the system because we felt that it is unheard of for government to be expected to give rights to a company it formed. Some people even go as far as dragging the minister to court because he allocated quotas to us. We do not need rights to fish, but we should be able to approach government and point out where we want to be involved – all this of course with the development agenda set by government. Fischor as per its founding Act does not need fishing rights, it just needs to apply to participate because the Act makes provision for the company to exploit all marine resources.
So in your view what is the role of Fishcor, because you seem to insinuate that Fishcor deserves preferential treatment from government?
I am not saying we want preferential treatment, all I am saying is that government should not be castigated for empowering a company which it created to assist in the development of the country. For instance, if government wants to help needy communities during hard times such as droughts or floods – seeing that it has created a fishing company it must be allowed to award a quota to this company to catch fish in order to attend to feeding those in need or to support any other government project.
Seaflower Whitefish resumed production last year. How is the company doing so far?
The company was crippled mainly because it faced vessel problems but we devised some measures aimed at turning the company around. Earlier this year we acquired new vessels and repaired one of the old vessels. Now we are in full production and meeting targets. We even employed an additional 100 people to make sure the output targets are met.
How is Fishcor doing when it comes to value addition?
As a processing company we are already in value addition. We do not sell unprocessed fish. But we do not want to end there, that is not where we want to end. When we came in we wanted to make sure immediate needs such as acquiring vessels and resuming production are reached. This time around we will analyse the market to see what products we need to develop. Of course it is a lengthy process because the market needs to respond to what we have to offer. Towards the end of this year we want to get market ready products such as, amongst others, fish fingers and fish burgers for the local and international markets.
Last year fisheries minister Bernhard Esau allocated a 10 000 hake quota to Fishcor, but the company went on to outsource that quota. What was that about?
When we got the horse mackerel quota it was purely meant to bail out the company so that it can acquire the necessary equipment needed to ensure full production. At the time Seaflower Whitefish was closed and the 520 employees were jobless. At the time financial institutions and our suppliers refused to assist us because our overdraft facility was exhausted and the suppliers were not paid. We needed N$40 million to restart operations and since we could not access capital from the banks we had no choice but to turn to the shareholder for assistance. But as we speak we are moving away from being a company that constantly needs bailouts.
How is Fishcor’s fleet of vessels?
When we started last year Seaflower Whitefish had two vessels – one vessel was already in operation for 40 years and the other for 28 years. We sold the one that was in operation for long and spent N$9 million to revamp the other.
The revamped vessel started fishing in May. It was supposed to have started towards the end of last year already but due to the nature of repairs that were being done it was delayed. We needed to make sure the catching capacity is up to standard because our factory is built on a model where you need three trawlers that can catch 60 tons of fish weekly. Seaflower Whitefish now owns three vessels while the lobster company owns six.
Why is it that many Namibians do not eat fish, yet this is a product in abundance in their own country?
You must remember that we operate in a commercial environment. That is where Namibia Fish Consumption Promotion Trust comes in because if you leave the prices in the hands of the market the prices are bound to be high. The other thing is that the type of fish we offer like hake and lobster are high value fish. Although horse mackerel and angel are within the reach of ordinary Namibians, the fact that the local market competes with markets such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo gives the suppliers a choice to sell their products where they can make more money.