ABOUT 2,000 jobs could be on the line after the South African Navy on Wednesday confirmed SA’s economically important biomass survey for the small pelagic fishery had been delayed indefinitely because repairs to the survey ship, the SAS Africana, had also been delayed.

The navy took over the management of the fisheries fleet in April, after Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson halted Smit Amandla Marine’s R800m contract to manage and operate the seven vessels and gave it to black empowerment company Sekunjalo.

The contracts are being investigated by the public protector.

The fish survey needs to be completed by the middle of next month so that a total allowable catch for the fishery — SA’s second-largest by volume, and worth almost R400m — can be set for next year.

There is concern that if the survey is not completed it could reduce the total allowable catch for the fishery — sardine, anchovy and pilchard — by 50% for at least six months, at the cost of about 2,000 of 15,000 jobs.

The navy was waiting for spares for the SAS Africana and could not say when these would arrive, a source from the ministry of defence said on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old SAS Africana broke down off False Bay last Sunday with water in its fuel tanks. Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele switched off her cellphone when Business Day called.

Last year, a total of 100,000 tons of pilchards worth R171m and 200,000 tons of anchovies worth R200m were landed.

Congress of South African Trade Unions Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich, who earlier in the week called for a full investigation into the way in which ships used for biomass surveys had been managed and maintained, said he could not comment on the delay until he had personally verified it.

"We will be concerned if there are any undue delays," he said.

Independent fisheries management expert Shaheen Moolla said that handing the technical operation of ships to a private agency such as Smit Amandla Marine was accepted internationally. He said the navy did not have the technical capability to run and maintain the Africana.