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Vessels allegedly fish in restricted zone

2022-11-17  Eveline de Klerk

Vessels allegedly fish in restricted zone

WALVIS BAY – Two fishing vessels of a reputable horse mackerel fishing company based in Walvis Bay were allegedly spotted trawling within the restricted 200 metres isobath in June this year.

No fishing is allowed in this restricted zone by the government as it is regarded as the spawning area of various fish species.

Pictures of the alleged violation, taken from another fishing vessel’s monitoring system, have been circulating since last week and have also been submitted to the fisheries ministry.

As a result, players in the industry are now calling for an independent investigation into the transgression.

The data displayed in the pictures show the two vessels were trawling about 135 metres within the restricted zone. 

However, the names of the vessels could not be detected as their vessel monitoring systems (VMS) have been switched off.

VMS is a system used in commercial fishing to allow environmental and fisheries regulatory organisations to track and monitor the activities of fishing vessels.

Several players in the horse mackerel industry have been lobbying to be allowed to catch within the restricted zone due to poor catches.

Director of operations in the ministry Hafeni Mungungu said the alleged violation was never submitted to the ministry.

“The pictures, however, seem to be taken by someone on-board a fishing vessel. For us to look into this alleged past offence, whoever took the pictures must come forward with this evidence and be the main witness in a court of law, that is if we find credible evidence for prosecution,” Mungungu explained.

He added the Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC) staff are out for interviews but that they will later verify the VMS tracks for the two vessels, although no alarms were received at the time of the supposed transgression.

“We will continue to look into the matter and revert with additional information if any becomes available. We also urge the person that took the pictures to come forward,” he appealed.

The Fisheries Observer Agency on Monday also indicated to New Era that the implicated vessels were at sea at the time, however, no violation reports were submitted by fisheries observers.

Some members of the fishing sector also indicated that fishing within the restricted zone has been happening but those witnessing such transgressions fear victimisation as some companies are politically linked and could cost them their quotas.

“We won’t report it. Why should I report someone that is also struggling to catch, especially in the current conditions? I will only report if it is foreigners that are catching,” one of the players in the horse mackerel industry said.

Another added the transgression only shows that the horse mackerel industry is struggling, as many vessels return empty from the fishing grounds.  

According to the player, this is a clear indication that the industry should be allowed to catch in the 200m zone.

A stock assessment carried out by the fisheries ministry over the past year showed some fish stocks are still in a precarious state.

This was highlighted by fisheries minister Derek Klazen during his annual address to the fishing industry at Walvis Bay on Friday.

“The scientific survey conducted in March 2022 has indicated that the stock [horse mackerel] has declined drastically. The size of the fish has been decreasing over the past five decades, and catches of the midwater fishery are now continuously made up of relatively smaller fish in size,” Klazen explained.

Klazen raised concern over illegal fishing activities, where vessels switch off their automatic identification systems, making it difficult to track the culprits in the past.

As a result, he said the ministry last year upgraded its VMS system and incorporates a Vessel Automatic Identification System (AIS) as Themis Radar Imagery for the identification of vessels that switches their VMS off. 

He also indicated that anyone found fishing within the restricted zone will be dealt with by the justice system.

Samherji was the last company fined in Namibia for fishing with Heinaste within the 200m restricted zone. Their then captain before the vessel was sold to Tunacor, Arngrimur Bynjolfson pleaded guilty and was fined N$950 000 by magistrate Rhivermo Williams in January 2020 at Walvis Bay.

2022-11-17  Eveline de Klerk

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