Fisheries & Aquaculture briefing by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

01 September 2009
Chairperson: Ms A Qikani (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefed the Committee on fisheries and aquaculture. Aquaculture was defined as the culture of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and plants, either in cages within the shallow waters of the ocean or dams or structures or on land fed by water. , A short history and context of aquaculture was given and the Department outlined the development programmes that were already in place, and threats that the industry was facing. The industry employed around 22 000 people directly, and was worth around R2 billion per year. Current catches had declined due to increased demand and technology advances, and pressure on resources as well as climatic issues led to the migration of fish from the West to South coast of South Africa. This had had an effect on the traditional fishermen and fishing communities, as well as on harbour infrastructure and resources, as well as adding to the costs of transport inland. Many of those in the fishing industry were no longer working permanent jobs. Opportunities did, however, lie in increases of employment through tourism and aquaculture. The potential was very large. Although other departments and bodies were also involved, the Department had taken the lead, and had developed policies and policy frameworks deal with both freshwater and marine aquaculture. It recommended better alignment of policies, strategies and legislation, as well as better coordination of research. The current projects were briefly described. Costs included system and ongoing costs. The Department was conducting research into the types of fish that could be suitable for farming, but noted that there was a need also to promote the culture of fish-consumption of certain species in South Africa. Although some foreign species could be farmed, they had to be carefully chosen so that they would not be invasive.  Challenges were identified as limited capacities, lack of technical skills and support, high feed, equipment and technology costs, limited government support through veterinary services and disease management, complex resource-based legislation, lack of marketing services and access to finance, and climatic variability and seasonality. However, there was also a demand and good natural resources and infrastructure. The development programmes included establishment of new hatcheries, refurbishment of existing State-owned hatcheries and pilot projects. The Department had a number of international and regional engagements.

Members asked whether it would be financially viable to proceed with investment in the Gariep Dam, asked why catfish were not considered particularly viable for aquaculture, what type of mussel species were used, what impact this had on indigenous species, and what was done about prawn production. Members also asked for more information about abalone farming and the West Coast rock lobster, which had been so badly over-fished that certain projects had closed. Members asked if closing fishing would allow for stocks to recover, what would be the final resort, and what alternatives were planned in areas where fish stocks had been depleted. Members questioned the nature of the advisory forum and asked if it was intergovernmental. Members also noted that Saldanha Bay communities were no longer relying on fishing and asked what the Department had done to try to develop their skills in other areas, stressing their view that the Department should be proactive and provide infrastructure, and also suggested that better monitoring and evaluation were needed, that there was currently over-regulation and that quotas should be reconsidered. The Department was asked to provide more detail on the assistance given to farmers to move into the market, asked what provincial support there was, and requested written answers to the questions.

Meeting report

Fisheries and Aquaculture briefing: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department)
Mr Andile Hawes, Deputy Director General, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, indicated to the Committee that the Department’s mandate in terms of agriculture came out of renewable resources like water. Water was associated with risks such as temperature change, pollution, biodiversity decline and water shortages. Any changes in water affected the surrounding agricultural activities, and any climate changes affected both of these. The Department felt that it was important to use the resource of agriculture to address problems of food security.

Mr Belemane Semoli, Deputy Director: Mariculture, DAFF, explained that the fisheries sector in South Africa was well established and most of the South African fishing opportunities were fully utilised, and were sometimes over exploited. The industry employed around 22 000 people directly, and was worth around R2 billion per year. Concerns had been raised because catches were now very low, due to increased demand and technology advances. Pressure on resources had led to the migration of fish from the West to the South Coast, and levels of fish had continued to decrease since the Second World War.

This had affected many traditional fisherman and fishing communities around the Cape Town area. Lower catches meant fewer jobs, and the shifting distribution of fish had meant that there was a mismatch between harbour infrastructure and fishing demand. It had the added effect that companies needed to truck fish across the country, which increased the cost of production and consumption. Unemployment had increased, and many people who worked in the industry were not working permanent jobs. There were opportunities for tourism, but this required development of skills in the fishing communities. Another opportunity lay in aquaculture.

Aquaculture was defined as the culture of aquatic organisms, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and plants, either in cages within the shallow waters of the ocean or dams or structures on land fed by water. Aquaculture had been expanding rapidly across the world and China was the largest contributor to global aquaculture production.

He argued that in South Africa the environmental potential for aquaculture was huge, and this could have positive effects on the unemployment statistics. If the industry production levels grew to the projected level of 90 000 tons per annum, then this could double the employment potential of the industry. Abalone farming in particular had shown extremely positive growth trends that exceeded global levels.

The DAFF was not the only body responsible for developing this sphere, but had taken the lead in the development of marine and freshwater aquaculture. Other departments were involved, including the Departments of Science and Technology, of Trade and Industry, of Water and Environmental Affairs, of Health, the South African Bureau of Standards, the Department of Tourism and various municipalities. An advisory forum had been developed in this regard and had brought all of the departments together and aligned their projects and outputs. There were policies and policy frameworks in place to deal with both freshwater and marine aquaculture amongst several of these departments.

Relevant legislation on this issue included the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, the Animal Diseases Act, the Animal Improvement Act, the Marine Living Resources Act and the National Water Act. In his view the sector was well organised into two working groups who were of the view that there should be an alignment of freshwater and marine policies, strategies and legislation. However, there was a need to develop the internal capacity to deal with any issues that did arise.

There were three main types of aqua culture facilities that could be used to develop this industry, which included public diagnostic laboratories, public research laboratories and private laboratories.

Mr K Ramsey, Deputy Director: Animal Production, DAFF, continued that there were a number of projects under way that focussed on the provision of fish for food, or the use of fish to develop an income to buy food. It was the view of the DAFF that aquaculture could contribute to rural livelihoods, particularly through the revival of already existing structures. The Department had five main aims in regard to this area. These were the revitalisation of state facilities, institutional support from provinces, capacity building, community Public / Private Partnership (PPP) programme models and providing assistance to farmers to allow them to penetrate the market.

He said that there were concerns about the candidate species that had been chosen in pursuit of these aims (particularly tilapia), as well as an awareness of the costs involved. Costs included system costs like heating the water so that the fish would breed, and ongoing costs like feeding the fish. Further research from the Department would thus look at other species other than tilapia, such as catfish and carp.

He said that one of the primary aims of the project was the development of a culture of fish consumption, which in the view of the DAFF was a definite obstacle to the introduction of fish as a popular food source. There was also a need to build capacity to process and sell the fish. DAFF believed that the technology and skill would become available through working with strategic partners such as China, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. He also explained that research was being done into the development of local feed and equipment.

He said that there were several threats to the South African aquaculture sector, including limited capacities, lack of technical skills and support, high feed, equipment and technology costs, limited government support through veterinary services and disease management, complex resource-based legislation, lack of marketing services and access to finance, and climatic variability and seasonality.

However, he said that there was a demand and there were good natural resources and infrastructure in South Africa, which meant that there were opportunities for aquaculture and for agricultural diversity. He felt that the potential for tourism around aquaculture was good, as was the economic climate of a growing economy.

The development programmes that the Department was pursuing included the establishment and the revitalisation of already existing State-owned hatcheries, cage-culture pilot studies that would focus on marine species, capacity development programmes for scientists, extension officers, veterinarians, animal health technicians and inspectors, the creation of aquaculture development zones such as Gariep Dam for specific species, and research and development on specific candidate culture species such as carp.

The DAFF had a number of international engagements with China, Norway, Mozambique, Hungary (where carp species were good) and with international institutions such as the World Fish Centre, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the World Bank (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Commission on Fisheries (COFI). It had also committed to regional engagements with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).

He concluded that there were a few projects which were working well but that these were still in the learning and implementation phase. In his view this was one of the most exciting areas in South Africa at the moment.

Mr D Worth (DA, Free State) asked whether the presenters thought it was financially worthwhile to continue to invest in the Gariep Dam projects, given that they had not been successful so far. He suggested that a public / private partnership might be a more feasible investment that could also help to deal with the issue of shortage of expertise.

Mr Ramsey said that one of the problems was that the dam projects had started well, and the Gariep was getting some large fish. However, as they were fished out they were not adequately replaced, and so the fish that were now present were smaller, leading to the winding down of the industry. The Department was now in the process of considering the dams individually to see how many people used the dams and how many fingerlings were needed to re-stock.

He added that one of the problems with high income fish such as trout was that the infrastructure of hatcheries was expensive. However, the opportunity existed for contract growers with certain species, similar to the poultry industry. A grower of trout would get fingerlings and feed, and would raise the fish for collection when they were ready to release into the dams. This, however, was limited because of the market for trout in South Africa. There were more opportunities for contract-growing in aquaculture for both other fresh water and marine species.  

Mr Worth asked why catfish, which existed naturally in many dams, was not being considered as a viable candidate species.

Mr Ramsey replied that the markets were very important. The demand for catfish was specifically for the European catfish. These could be grown in South Africa, and then exported, and one of the good candidate species was present. More market research needed to be done, but in his view this would be a good candidate species. He personally found catfish tasty, but noted that South Africans did not generally have a culture of eating it, unlike countries such as United States of America, which had restaurants specialising only in selling this fish. He pointed out that if the demand for the product was developed, this would then lead to job opportunities, and further community development, perhaps through the management of dams. He also said that more research also needed to be done on the food for catfish. The choice related to how to use the same feed for different animals, such as poultry and fish.

Mr Ramsey noted that South Africa did have good indigenous species. South African tilapia did not grow as fast as species outside. However, the DAFF was cautious about introducing international species because they were very invasive. In terms of the Animal Improvement Act, if species like tilapia and catfish were declared as animals, this would allow for more genetic research. This would be in line with regulations on protected species within the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA).

Mr Hawes said that between 1974 and 1990 other species were introduced in the Eastern Cape, but because there was not a culture of eating fish, they were not successful. Only the tribes above the Tugela River in KwaZulu Natal tended to eat a lot of fish. There was a need to promote the consumption of fish in other communities. He suggested that this could be done in the same way that eggs were promoted, by visiting schools and encouraging eating of fish. He suggested that negative opinions around fish species first needed to be removed, for instance to encourage the eating of catfish. In America this culture was good, but in South Africa the culture still needed to change in order that the aquaculture industry could be successful. There had been redevelopment in this industry, to ensure that when the demand was increased there would be sufficient supply.

Mr Worth asked what type of mussel species the DAFF was using in its projects, and, if they were invasive species, what their impact was on the indigenous species.

Mr Semoli said that the mussel species being used was indeed an invasive species, but in terms of NEMBA it had been exempted because it had established itself in South Africa and had been around for a long time.

Mr Worth made a general observation that prawns were very popular in the South African market, but the production of prawns seemed to be low, and asked for more information about this.

Mr Semoli responded that the Mozambican prawn was popular in the South African market, but it was very invasive. In the next few years a new prawn farm would be developed in Port Elizabeth. The Department was looking into the possibility of importing 20 000 tonnes of the white-legged prawn, which was an alien species from the Pacific, but was not invasive. The Department believed that the industry was going to become productive again.

Mr Worth asked about abalone farming, and noted that its production had declined. He asked for more information on this.

Mr Semoli replied that the limiting factor on abalone was the issue of the markets, which had been badly affected by the economic recession. The competition from Japan, Korea, Chile and Australia was also influencing the sale of abalone. The Department was examining the European Union (EU) as an alternative market for export, but the EU was very strict on the requirements to enter the system and had not yet admitted South Africa. The EU inspectors had paid two visits, but had found some shortfalls, which the DAFF was in the process of rectifying.

Mr Worth asked about the West Coast Rock Lobster which had been badly over-fished on the West coast. He asked what effect was of the closure project on the West coast on fish stock.

Mr Semoli replied that there had not been total closure of the West Coast Rock Lobster project, but stocks had gone down. About 30 years ago, catches were mostly in the Northern Cape, but recently they were in the Cape Town area, which had led to a shift in resources towards Cape Town.

Mr G Mokgoro (ANC, Northern Cape) noted that the presenters had mentioned species of fish that had been over fished and almost depleted. He asked what the ultimate end of such depletions were, and whether there was not a way that the fish could be given a time to breed and allow the resource to become naturally available again.

Mr Semoli replied that there were Marine Development Areas where fishing was not allowed, in order to allow species to recover. For example, the West Coast Rock Lobster fishing was seasonal, and only allowed for fishing outside of breeding time. The final resort in cases of over-fishing was the closing of a fishery, such as the abalone example.

Mr Hawes said that the challenges that were faced were linked to climatic changes.

Mr Mokgoro asked what alternatives had been planned for fishermen in the areas where the fish stocks had been depleted.

Mr Semoli replied that the issue was not the depletion of fish, but rather the migration of fish from the West to the South Coast. He said it was a shift in species distribution and that fishermen were still catching, but in different areas.

Mr Ramsey suggested that towns that were fishing towns could be used to grow fish inland.

Mr O De Beer (COPE, Western Cape) asked about the nature of the advisory forum and asked whether its composition was intergovernmental or whether it involved sectors on its own.

Mr Semoli said that the advisory forum currently only involved government departments. However, other stakeholders and investors did have other platforms to interact with government. Workshops were also organised to facilitate this.

Mr De Beer asked about Saldanha Bay fishing. This sector had once provided the most job opportunities, but as a result of the decline of the catch size in the area, was no longer the major economic role player in the area. He expressed concern that the people in that area only knew how to fish, and asked what the DAFF did with regard to the development of alternative skills for the people living in that area. He asked what the alternatives were, so that plans could be made to address future challenges of this nature. He said that the Department should be proactive, and asked what types of measures were in place to deal with anticipated problems.

Mr Semoli admitted that the DAFF was lagging behind in developing the area, and needed to work with other departments like the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the Department of Education to ensure that training could take place. He said that in the next couple of months, there would be an injection of funding into the area, because there was a large area of sea space there that was highly under utilised.

Mr De Beer added that in cases like Saldanha, rights holders had to relocate in order to follow the fish, but this resulted in taking the economic mainstream out of the areas that were previously associated with fishing. He said that this left a great deal of infrastructure that was not being used, and resulted in large retrenchments in this sector.

Mr Semoli said that the provision of infrastructure for rights holders was something that the Department needed to look at. He said that the Department had had a discussion about the possibility of setting up a holding facility so that when the fishermen caught the rock lobster they could hold them there until they had enough for the market.

Mr De Beer said that in his view the Department should play a bigger role in providing some infrastructure for the rights holders, rather than playing a policing role.

Mr De Beer asked about the monitoring and evaluation systems present in the fishing sector, and asked whether commitments made in presentations were being monitored on the ground. He said that the Department’s compliance in terms of monitoring and evaluation had not been good in the past.

Mr Semoli said that the Department was currently going through a review process, based on the long term rights in 2006, and was now in the process of looking at all rights received. He noted that he thought that there could be better systems developed and put in place.

Mr De Beer expressed his view that the sector was over-regulated and that although there were fish, many people had no access to catching these fish by legal means, and thus had no alternative other than to poach. He suggested that regulations around fishing be re-evaluated, and that quotas be reconsidered.

Mr Semoli replied that the quotas were redeveloped every year, based on scientific evaluation and reviews, which in turn were based on the stock of certain fish in the sea. The reduction of quotas depended on the availability of fish stocks. If people over-caught the fish, the fishery would just collapse, which would endanger the livelihoods of fishers over the next ten or fifteen years time. He said that a balance should be achieved because there was an obligation to protect resources for future generations. The Department was trying its best to achieve a balance that ensured that the resources were sustainable.

Mr De Beer noted that in the presentation DAFF had said that the sector provided 22 000 work opportunities, but he commented that these were only seasonal jobs, even in companies that exported internationally. In his view this was a method of exploitation in the sector.

Mr Semoli said that it was true that many of the jobs were seasonal, but that this was not true of all of the jobs. He said that many of the jobs involved with hake fishing were permanent. In his view there was a fair balance between permanent and seasonal jobs. He suggested that perhaps the next presentation by the DAFF for the Committee could unpack this issue further.

Mr Hawes said that the Department had sought to engage other industries to try to create jobs. It was looking at sea-fishes being used for bio fuels, but these had to be researched to identify what other resources needed to be introduced in the area that could be linked to job creation.

The Chairperson asked that the presenters convey the comments of the Members to the Department.

The Chairperson noted that the Department had said it would assist farmers to move into the market, and she wanted more detail on how this would happen. She asked for a list of the species that were being farmed.

Mr Semoli said that the Department assisted in terms of marketing, and used its economists to study market trends and feed the information about opportunities back into the industry.  A list of the species that were being farmed would be sent to the Committee.
Mr Ramsey added that as far as assisting the farmers was concerned, the main reason for the project had been to perform market research. DAFF was looking at the issue of processing and selling the fish and doing it in certain forms. Local communities could catch, consume, sell and process fish from a community dam. More market research was being done to fill in the gaps, and to ensure that surpluses were not developed.

Mr De Beer said that although research was mentioned as one of the strengths of the DAFF, there was little or no improvement every year.

Mr Ramsey said that the research shortfalls were linked to issues of funding and that the Department had sought out partnerships between departments, and was also involved in joint projects in order to generate funds. There were relationships with overseas partners. He said that the DAFF realised that it was in a difficult economic climate and thus the best action to pursue was development. He said that this was working.

Mr Hawes noted that the DAFF had developed research priorities so that it could spend on key projects rather than trying to stretch the funds over a number of small projects. By the end of October the Department would have agreed on the process of prioritisation of research and would be terminating small projects to accommodate these priorities.

Mr Semoli noted that developing funding for aquaculture had been a slow process and only around 2005 was there a realisation that the strategy needed to be aimed at developing policy. One of the key elements of that policy was research and development. In February this year the DAFF submitted a budget for funding for the next three cycles until 2010. It was hoping that the funding that Government provided would allow the Department to go forward.

Mr Faizol Daniels, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, said that politically, there were two critical issues. Firstly, the budget had been decreasing since 1994, for reasons that were not clear. Secondly, the research was quite scattered with everyone doing parts of research, including State Owned Enterprises and industry, which had meant that the findings were not aligned. He said that he agreed with the Minister of Agriculture that there should be a single committee in place to develop “real research” plans. The Minister was cultivating relationships with academics to address anomalies in research. Studies had shown that there was a direct link between a sectoral increase in the budget for research and development, and job creation in that sector. The results of research improved performance in a sector.

Mr Worth asked whether the projects that were still going on in the various provinces fell under the Department of Agriculture. He asked what sort of provincial support the DAFF was receiving for aquaculture.

Mr Ramsey said that the provincial enthusiasm was really encouraging, particularly in Limpopo and the Free State. He said that Mpumalanga had good official capacity but was having problems with funding and getting things going. At present, nearly every province had a trained officer who was receiving support, and working groups existed to ensure communication on a regular basis. The Department needed to build more capacity, but people were enthusiastic and passionate about it and this was encouraging.

The Chairperson asked that DAFF submit the answers in written form to assist the Committee members to brief their constituencies about the projects under way. She thanked the officials for their presentation and their commitment.

Mr Hawes invited Members to make use of the knowledge and research of the Department and looked forward to further participation.

The meeting was adjourned.


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