Eveline de Klerk
No research has been conducted on the status of pilchards since a moratorium was placed on harvesting the species in 2017. This was confirmed by fisheries minister Derek Klazen this week. Government enforced the ban to aid its recovery after low catches were detected. The ban expired at the end of last year, but is still in place as there is no indication to date whether pilchards recovered or had been depleted.
Namibia had two canning facilities that relied on pilchard quotas. However, one of the facilities closed down as a result, while the other, Etosha Fishing, is still operating, despite facing severe constraints.
Moratorium will remain
According to Klazen, the status quo will remain as they can only decide on the fate of pilchards once research has been done and results analysed. “This will be the first research survey since the moratorium was put in place,” he said on Tuesday. He added that the ministry’s scientists are best placed to do the research as they have done in the past and present with all commercial quota fisheries.
“So, we do not need foreign experts to do the research,” he stated. Klazen said the research will only start in October, despite the ban having expired last year already. “In the meantime, we are in consultations with Etosha Fishing to find solutions to their issue,” he noted.Former fisheries minister Albert Kawana last year already instructed scientists to assess the country’s pilchard stock to determine whether the species, which is close to extinction, had recovered before the ban is lifted.
Unionists and some employees of Etosha Fishing on Tuesday criticised the ministry for not giving the pilchard issue the attention it deserves. They claim it was pure negligence that the status remains unknown, despite the fact that the ban ended long ago.
‘Government failed us’ Speaking on behalf of the employees, Turkey Hailonga said they have hardly worked in recent years because of the ban. “Government is failing us… Our company imports fish, but it is not enough to sustain our jobs. Some of us have only work for three weeks this year. That is how bad the situation is,” he explained.
Hailonga and some 200 employees handed over a petition to Etosha Fishing due to benefits and other incentives that were cut by the company. “The ban is over. Why are we not getting our pilchard quotas? Sometimes we work only a week a month. That is how bad the situation is,” he continued.
Namibia Seamen and Allied Workers Union’s Errki Shitana, who also represents the Etosha Fishing workers, said government should pronounce itself on the ban and rather give the company an alternative quota.
“They cannot still do research while the employees are on the streets. What have they been doing since the ban was put in place?” he asked.Etosha Fishing employs about 600 people, including seasonal and temporary workers.
Keeping afloat Meanwhile, Etosha Fishing yesterday told New Era that they are being kept afloat by their mother company, Oceana Group. Etosha Fishing stated that they are importing frozen pilchards for local value addition at their factory to sustain operations and the roughly 600 jobs. The company’s management further explained that since the pilchard moratorium was introduced in December 2017, they had to stop operating in shifts, hence limiting employment and income for its seasonal employees.
“Even before the pilchard moratorium, the company started importing frozen pilchards to keep the cannery operational, amid the decline of the local pilchard resource. Substantial investments were also made in thawing equipment to process the imported frozen pilchards more efficiently,” the management said. They added that they have been making substantial financial losses since 2019. The company had to sell purse seine vessels and retrench some employees.
“However, Etosha Fishing has a good relationship with the fisheries ministry, and are working in close collaboration to seek alternative solutions for our current challenges,” the company said. Pelagic fishery may never recover Interestingly, Norwegian researcher Bjorn Erik Axelsen, who was part of a team that carried out a regional survey on pelagic resources off the Namibian coast in 2017, indicated that pelagic fishery may never recover.
The research was carried out by the most advanced research vessel, and experts who were of the opinion that the whole world was facing a crisis in terms of pilchards due to unregulated over-catching, which resulted in the collapse of pelagic fishery.