Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE Deep Sea Trawler Association was doing everything it could to help the government ensure all the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC’s) criteria for its accreditation of South Africa’s R1.4bn a year deep sea trawler-caught hake export market were met, fishing industry umbrella body Fish SA spokesman Jeremy Marillier said on Thursday.

The first of this year’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ hake biomass surveys, an MSC requirement, concludes on Thursday, when the survey ship, the RS Dr Fridtjof Nansen, is expected to dock at Walvis Bay, Namibia, department spokesman Lionel Adendorf said.

The survey would meet the MSC’s requirements, he said.

The Deep Sea Trawler Association had set up meetings with the department to help it ensure the MSC accreditation process was followed properly and all the relevant data were collected, Mr Marillier said.

MSC accreditation is an increasingly import requirement set by overseas markets. It is stipulated by‚ among others‚ Unilever, the world’s third-largest consumer goods company; Sainsbury’s‚ the UK’s third-largest supermarket chain; and the US’s Walmart and Costco.

Mr Marillier said the biomass survey would contribute towards a set of MSC requirements that had to be met by "March/April" in order for the MSC to again accredit the fishery.

The deep-sea hake fishery is worth a total of R2.89bn a year‚ with hake popular in South Africa too. South Africa’s supermarket chains are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of maintaining the health of South African and global fish stocks, and are working towards also requiring MSC accreditation.

Democratic Alliance fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen said the RS Dr Fridtjof Nansen’s survey would satisfy only part of the MSC requirements, and the data needed for the department to set the total allowable catch for 2013.

Mr Adendorf could not immediately say when the total allowable catch would be set.

It is estimated between 5,000 and 9,000 jobs could be on the line if a total allowable catch is not set.

World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa’s sustainable fisheries manager, Samantha Petersen, said while there were "areas of concern" in the government’s handling of the MSC requirements issue, she doubted the fishery would actually lose its accreditation.

The RS Dr Fridtjof Nansen is a private-sector ship that is doing survey work for the Benguela Current Commission and agreed to do survey work for the government after the SAS Africana was unable to put out to sea.

The navy took over the management of the fisheries fleet in April last year amid protests, 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. She later withdrew Sekunjalo’s contract amid corruption allegations.

Another ship, the FV Andromeda, put out to sea on Tuesday evening, also to survey South Africa’s hake fishery.

Mr Adendorf said the FV Andromeda’s task was to start a new data set on the fishery so that when the 30-year-old SAS Africana was retired — or was again unable to sail — the biomass survey could still be done, with another vessel and a new data set.

Mr van Dalen questioned Mr Adendorf’s assertion that the FV Andromeda’s task was unrelated to this year’s MSC accreditation, and the setting of a total allowable catch.

"Why would they have been running around signing contracts at night (if this was so)," he said.

"They must be paying the Andromeda a lot. Where is the R800m (that was available for the contract to manage and operate the seven vessels)? They say there is no money. Where is it?" he said.