South African, Namibian hake fisheries inching closer to MSC certification

Published on
November 3, 2020

South Africa and Namibia could soon grow their share of the global seafood market as the two countries’ hake trawl fisheries are expecting to receive certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

A determination has been made to push to get Namibia’s hake fishery MSC-certified, and a similar process for the South Africa hake trawl fishery is underway, but has been slightly delayed. Both countries are banking on the global certification to open up more international markets for their seafood products.

MSC picked global independent services firm Control Union UK Limited (CU UK) to carry out the certification process for Namibia’s hake demersal trawl and longline fishery. The company has already made a determination and has published a draft report for public comment after a 30-day period of stakeholder consultation.

“CU UK’s Final Report concludes that the Namibia hake demersal trawl and longline fishery should be certified according to the Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fisheries as set by the Marine Stewardship Council,” Control Union said in a statement on 23 October.

However, CU clarified that the Namibian hake demersal trawl and longline fishery is “not certified until the final consultation period of 15 working days has been concluded.”

Public and private sector stakeholders with any objections to the final draft report recommendations have until 13 November to lodge either a procedural objection or a merits objection.

If the MSC certification process turns out successful, it would support the current position of Namibia’s demersal fishery, which is regarded as the most valuable fishery in the country, representing up to 60 percent of the total fish landed there, according to the FAO. At least 90 percent of the catch value is hake that “is either frozen at sea by demersal trawlers or is landed as wetfish taken either by trawl or longline.”

In neighboring South Africa, the fourth reassessment of the country’s hake fishery was launched in October 2019, with a team made up of Jim Andrews of the U.K., Giuseppe Scarcella of Italy, and Johanna Pierre of Australia. Last year, the group commenced scrutiny of “every aspect of the fishery against the MSC standard,” according to a release by South Africa Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADTIA).

“Although assessing a fishery’s sustainability is a complex process, the concept behind the MSC standard is simple – fishing operations should be conducted in ways that ensure the long-term health of fish populations, while the ecosystems they depend on remain healthy and productive to meet the needs of present and future generations,” SADTIA said.

SADTIA said the MSC standard being applied in the fourth reassessment – a process that was initially scheduled to end in May 2020, but has been delayed due to the coronavirus – “is a more rigorous standard than was previously applied.” Previously, SADTIA said up to 35 percent of the current economic value of the trawled hake fishery could be attributed to the MSC certification. South Africa’s hake species include both the deep-water hake (Merluccius paradoxus) and shallow-water Cape hake (Merluccius capensis).

“It requires that more attention be paid to ecosystem issues – such as the effect that fishing has on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the management systems used to protect them – and it will deal with the possibility of stocks of hake being shared with neighbouring countries,” SADTIA said.

South Africa, home to Africa’s first hake trawl fishery to be MSC-certified, has undergone the recertification process several times, including in 2009 and 2015. However, it has yet to successfully resolve a long-standing maritime boundary dispute with Namibia. The trawl grounds on the South African coast extend from the Namibian border on the west coast to the extreme eastern part of Agulhas Bank near the port of Elizabeth, according to SADTIA.

The disputed maritime boundary, which is said to be rich in seabed diamonds, is part of the larger Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem that also includes Angola, where major commercial species such as hake, horse mackerel, deep sea red crab, as well as sardine and anchovy cross boundaries, making it difficult to confine them to any one specific MSC-certified fishery.

Photo courtesy of SADTIA

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