Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

WESTERN Cape-based fishing companies Oceana Group and Sea Harvest are upbeat about sales prospects this year, with the former hoping to increase its canned fish sales by about 16%, while the latter has forecast an 8% rise in its hake catch.

The companies, which are partly owned by investment company Brimstone, however, have raised concern about the uncertainty regarding the surveys that set the total allowable catch. The surveys are important for measuring the fish population.

The uncertainty stems from a delay at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in awarding a tender to a company that will carry out the survey and patrol the vessels.

"All we want at this stage is for the fisheries department to get the survey out ," Sea Harvest CEO George Bezuidenhout said. "Last year, we lost the winter survey. We can’t afford not to have the winter survey in April."

Oceana Group CEO Francois Kuttel also raised concern in his companies’ 2012 annual report saying the government’s research vessel "could not complete the small pelagic survey" and risked not being ready to complete the hake summer survey in time.

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Lionel Adendorf said on Wednesday that the department was looking at a "variety of options" to ensure the survey took place as soon as possible. This followed continued delays in repairs to the survey vessel SAS Africana, which was supposed to have gone back into operation this month.

The deadline for the survey is February 5, while the quota would be determined in October.

Mr Adendorf declined to speculate on the implications of missing the survey, saying it was the department’s "top priority".

Brimstone owns 16.8% of Oceana Group and 58% of Sea Harvest. The performance of the two companies is important for Brimstone to realise good investment income.

Last year, Brimstone received about R60m in dividends from Oceana and hopes to get a dividend from Sea Harvest after May next year.

Oceana MD Gavin Rhodes-Harrison said yesterday the canned fish business Lucky Star expected growth. It was targeting sales of close to 350-million cans from 300-million last year.

Sea Harvest, which specialises in hake and is considered a bellwether in Saldanha Bay, said it was in line to catch 41,700 tons of hake this year, an increase of 8% compared with last year.

Sea Harvest is the largest holder of licences for deep sea hake in South Africa out of a total allowable catch of 156,000 tons.

Brimstone bought its stake in Sea Harvest from Tiger Brands in 2009. The group exports to North America, Australia, Western Europe and is making inroads in Northern Europe.

• Ndzamela was hosted in Cape Town by Brimstone.