HENTIES BAY – A seal products factory is finding itself in a financial predicament that not only threatens its existence, but also that of several households depending on the seasonal jobs created through the processing of seals and by-products.
There are currently nine players in the sector, but only three have factories.
During the last seal harvesting season, the total allowable catch for seal pups was set at 80 000, while bulls were limited to 6 000.
The seal hunting season runs from 1 July to 15 November.
Despite receiving major backlash for the activity, government has defended its annual seal hunt exercise, citing that no harm is being caused to the sustainability of the seal population in the country.
Two of the Seal Products factory’s shareholders Gys Cilliers and Gabriel Uahengo said during a ministerial visit on Friday that years of low seal quotas and no access to some markets have plunged the factory into financial difficulties.
According to them, they have been pleading with the fisheries ministry for years now to have the quota adjusted to meet the current financial situation, but to no avail.
“We have pleaded with the ministry since former minister Bernhard Esau was minister, until now. This is the third minister that we once again approach as the situation remains the same,” Cilliers said at their factory. He added that at this stage, he just wants to pack up and leave, saying he has also already secured a partner who is willing to take over his shares in the company.
Factory manager Stiaan Cloete explained that they normally receive a quota of 3 000 bulls and 35 000 pups. However, harvesting pups has not been financially viable. “There is simply no market for their skins as well, as our main client based in Turkey used to buy the skins from us. However, with the current financial downturn, that market is almost non-existent. Currently, we are giving the skins away for free to whoever wants it,” Cloete lamented.
He added that they usually operate from July until November, but have not been operating this year at all.
“We will be operating against a loss. Last year, we lost N$1 million. We will need at least 20 000 bulls to keep the operations going,” he observed. There was nonetheless a huge market to sell the genitals of bulls. However, they have been doing it through a South African middleman, who again takes it to the Chinese market. “That is why we have appealed to government to assist us in fostering better trade relations with Asia as there is a market for our products, unlike in Europe and America where seal products are banned. This will enable us to directly sell to Asia,” Cloete continued.
They also make a supplement from seal oil that comes in powder and capsule form, which is quite popular amongst locals. Uahengo, however, says he wants to keep the factory afloat, despite his partners wanting to sell to a Chinese businessman. He added that despite the hardships, he would like to continue operating while consulting with government to see how they could address the quota issue.
“I am currently servicing our overdraft of N$2 million every month, just to make sure that this place keeps running,” Uahengo said. Executive director of the fisheries ministry Annely Haiphene said it is indeed a concern for the ministry that the factory is not operating.
However, she noted that the seal quota allocations are different from other normal fishing quotas. “They are allocated on a three-year rolling total allowable catch (TAC) basis. Another study was conducted last year as this rolling TAC comes to an end this year. So, we will see how we will deal with the issue,” she stated. She, therefore, urged the shareholders to rather operate and finish the little quota they have, irrespective of the transitional period they find themselves in. “Just finish the little quota you have received,” Haiphene added. -firstname.lastname@example.org