The race is on in South Africa to increase oyster volumes

South Africa is a country with a large capacity to farm oysters, but production, especially of the preferred Pacific oysters, has been on the decline.

That decline has partly been the result of increasing farm closures caused by a surge in concentrations of biotoxins and other hazardous substances.

However, in 2014 the government unveiled a new delivery program, dubbed “Operation Phakisa,” to catalyze implementation of a state-sponsored economic growth blueprint focused on oysters.

Phakisa – which in South Africa’s Sesotho language means “hurry up” – was launched identify short-term projects that will aid the expansion of the country's aquaculture sector and implement a schedule to fast-track the projects. The blueprint, dubbed the National Development Plan (NDP), includes proposals revamping oyster production, as part of a larger plan to improve the country’s fresh and marine aquaculture sectors.

Under Operation Phakisa, South Africa has identified 24 aquaculture projects for state support, including three oyster operations that have been singled out as critical towards achieving overall national aquaculture growth targets. Last year, the national target for revenue from aquaculture was set at USD 92 million (EUR 84 million). However, no update has been given by the government on whether the goal was met.

The oyster-farming companies slated to receive government funding included Saldanha Bay Oyster Company Ltd.,  West Coast Oyster Growers, and Blue Saphire Pearls, which were set to either receive financing or long-term land and water space leases by the Department of Public Works and the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA).

For the Saldanha Bay Oyster Company Ltd., a long-term land lease has been awarded by the Department of Public Works to support the firm’s holding and purging operations. With the long-term land and water space leases, the firm is expected to increase oyster production to 10 million oysters per year.

West Coast Oyster Growers, which produces mussels and oysters, was set to receive a 15-year water-space lease to support its effort to increase production of fresh oysters for local and international markets.

For the Blue Saphire Pearls project, TNPA and Department of Works have also extended a long-term water space and land leases to enable its expansion.

Although these projects are at various stages of implementation, their completion would most likely usher a new dawn in South Africa’s oyster farming sector, which had experienced substantial declines. That downward trend, which hit its low point between 2000 and 2013, reduced the number of oyster farming operations in the country to 11. The majority of those are in Western Cape, while the rest are in Eastern and Northern Cape, according to a feasibility study.

Although no precise figures are available on current oyster production levels in South Africa, the move by the government to give priority to development, expansion, and revamping of the three oyster projects under Phakisha, points to a deliberate commitment to expand the contribution of oyster farming to the overall performance of the national aquaculture industry.

Despite the oyster sector's decline, South Africa’s larger aquaculture production totals have increased. Oyster farming has been overtaken by mussel and abalone production in volume, though the larger sector of shellfish aquaculture – oysters, mussels, abalone, seaweeds, and prawns – remains a key driver in the fast growth of the marine aquaculture segment in South Africa.

The government has thrown its support behind Operation Phakisa because it identified aquaculture as an industry that has shown resilience against prolonged periods of slow or flat economic growth and constrained government financing for the sector. Furthermore, the government considers aquaculture to be critical in boosting the livelihoods of disadvantaged coastal and inland communities and in spurring national economic development.

Despite numerous challenges facing South Africa’s aquaculture industry, the government’s proposals under Operation Phakisa call for the establishment of an aquaculture development fund and the creation of an industrywide body to facilitate getting the products into retail and food service companies is likely to inject new life into the country’s farmed fish operations.  

As another significant part of Operation Phakisa, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is implementing a farming project of the Hamburg kob, a type of saltwater fish, initially on a pilot basis. State granting funding will go towards “shar[ing] the risks associated with developing this fairly new type of farming in South Africa,” according to the Department of Environment. At the pilot phase, the project is expected to produce approximately 20 tons of kob annually.

Operation Phakisa also hopes to lift freshwater fish aquaculture in South Africa – especially the farming of trout, catfish, freshwater crayfish, and tilapia species. That sector has faced continuous challenges in terms of receiving adequate supplies of suitable water, although production at the Limpopo, Mpumalanga Lowveld, and Northern Kwa-ZuluNatal areas remains substantial.

Except for a decline in production for the periods between 2007 and 2009, and also in 2010, growth of South Africa’s freshwater and marine aquaculture sector has oscillated largely within positive territory, growing at an average 7.2 percent annually.

Photo courtesy of the South African International Maritime Institute


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