Namibian Atlantic Deep Sea Trawling

The clean, cold waters off the coast of the Namib Desert are home to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, with the potential for sustainable yields of 1.5 million metric tons per year (Namibian Government 2010). Commercial fishing and fish processing are a significant and growing sector of the Namibian economy, contributing 5.7 per cent to GDP and accounting for 18 per cent of Namibia’s foreign exchange earnings (MFMR 2007). The main species found off the coast of Namibia are hake, sardines, anchovy, and horse mackerel. When Namibia gained independence in 1990, several fish stocks were on the verge of collapse. (photo from Namibia Focus – shows an Image from the early trawling days in Walvisbaai)

Prior to independence, “management” of Namibia’s fisheries consisted of constant jockeying for control. The fishery was, in effect, an open-access fishery, over which neither South Africa, as the de facto authority over Namibia, nor the United Nations, as the de jure authority, were able to exercise jurisdiction. With no rule of law that could be enforced, the fishing grounds became an international free-for-all. In the years prior to independence, more than Fencing Fisheries in Namibia and beyond 3,300 mid-water and bottom-trawl vessels were reportedly operating off the Namibian coast (Beaudry, Folsom, and Rovinsky 1993). According to an account by the African Economic Digest (1993), the USSR had a 32 per cent market share in the sale of the country’s fish, followed by Spain with 26 per cent. Unrestricted access to Namibia’s fishing grounds had devastating effects on the fishery. There were simply too many fishers catching too many fish.

The photo above: A production line from the Grupo Josmar Enterprise.

In the northern Benguela, Namibian fishing vessels target two species of hake, Merluccius capensis and Merluccius paradoxus. Diverse fishery’s like the USSR commenced in the 1950s but remained insignificant until the arrival in 1964 of distant-water fleets that exploited the hake resources beyond the sustainable limit. Today Namibia’s fisheries are recovering. Rights-based fisheries management has been introduced in the Namibian fisheries to improve the economic performance of the fisheries. The aim is to address the common property problem of fisheries by the creation of private property rights and increase the flow of net economic gains from the resource. The trend toward collapse has reversed since independence to the point that Namibian fisheries management is now considered a model. And the few fishing ports, which were once stark desert coast ghost towns, are thriving hubs where Namibians flock for jobs with the processing plants and fishing fleets. The demersal hake fishery is, by far, the most commercially important fishery in Namibia, contributing more than one-half of the final value of all fish products. However, the 154,600 tons landed in 2002 are no more than 25% of the total catch from all fisheries. The newly appointed Namibian scientists initially reduced catch limits to 60,000 tonnes but this was contested by some scientists, including South Africans, who “were stunned by the conservativism of the initial total allowable catch recommendation by the new government” (Ocean and Land Resource Assessment Consultants 2013).

     + The hake fishery management regime

So how exactly is this management system laid out by the Ministry? From what we know, the management of the hake fishery, like all commercial fisheries in Namibia, consists of a combination of harvesting rights, total allowable catches (TACs – link from the NewEra Namibian Newspaper), individual quotas (IQs), a system of fees and a monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) system. The surveillance and enforcement system administer fines, but recourse to courts is also sought. Renewable harvesting rights form the core of the Namibian fisheries management system. Fishing rights are issued to successful bidders for a period of seven, ten, fifteen or twenty years on account of various factors such as the level of Namibian ownership, investment in vessels and onshore facilities, fishing experience and social investment. Prior to 1 August 2001, harvesting rights were issued for 4, 7 and 10 years. The granting of harvesting rights limits access to the fishery. The setting of the TAC corresponds to the best biological information available and is intended to allow for optimal utilisation of the resources. Individual Quotas are issued to right holders and can be caught by the use of any vessel licensed to fish in Namibian waters. In Namibian fisheries, quotas are not permanently transferable, but they can be Rent Capture in the Namibian fisheries: The Case of hake 7 leased within a fishing season: “Fishing rights, or rights of harvest, are the central element of the fisheries management regime. The Marine Resources Act states “No person shall … harvest any marine resource for commercial purposes, except under a right…” The main purpose of fishing rights is to limit entry to the fisheries sector in order to protect the fisheries resources and maintain sustainable operations. Fishing rights are granted for a period of 7, 10, 15 or 20 years depending on various factors, in particular, the level of investment and the level of Namibian ownership and employment. Fishing rights are not freely transferable in Namibia, so as not to undermine the Government’s goals of Namibianisation and empowerment within the sector. The total number of existing rights in 2003 was 159.” – Namibia’s National Plan of Action – Management of Fishing Capacity

In the event of a lease, the original right holder is responsible for use of the quota and the payment of fees set by the MFMR in the year 2000. But that’s as much as we can tell you, unfortunately. We have been informed that there are a couple more hurdles which need to be attended. Further information for those wanting to engage deeper inside the complete details of this practice should get in contact with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

     + (Known) trawling locations 

Fishing for hake takes place all along the Namibian coast, at depths between 200 and 1000 m, with no trawling or longlining allowed approx. 200 m depth. The fishing area can be divided into three sections. The central area stretches from Henties Bay (22°S) to halfway between Walvis Bay and Luderitz (25°S). The northern area stretches north from the central area (22°S) to the Angolan border (17°S). The southern area stretches from the central area south (22°S) to the South African border (30°S). Starting in 1991, longliners initially operated out of Luderitz, a smaller harbour on the southern part of the Namibian coast. Since then, more companies have moved their longline vessels to centrally located Walvis Bay and by 2009 the majority of the fleet was operating from there. Longliners target shallow-water hake (Merluccius capensis) at depths of 200 to 500 m (based on logbook data from trawling records in 2010,  – compared from 3557 records, average depth ranges at approx. 320 m); they concentrate in the south, in the area between Luderitz and Oranjemund, in the central area just north and south of Walvis Bay, and in the north in the area off Moewe Bay (19°S).

• Merluccius capensis; Merluccius paradoxus

Hake (or the Merluccius species) has a mild flavour with a medium but firm textured meat and is best poached with lemon juice. The Hake family comprise 13 species but only one, the European hake, is found in waters close to home. Although closely related, it is separated from cod by its long slender body. 





Image above: Merluccius capensis (image from Vreiheid Herald)

Hake is a slow growing fish with a lifespan of about 14 years. Merluccius capensis, mainly taken in inshore waters, is above sustainable levels and catches below Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). The deepwater paradoxus stock is below precautionary levels and a rebuilding plan is in place. Measures to reduce bycatch of seabirds and other fish species have been adopted through a comprehensive management plan and observer programme. The Cape hake fishery has been certified as a responsible fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since 2004.

The sustainability range on this fish is listed under “No.2”. To explain this rating the Marine conservation society states the following:  “Many of the fish listed are caught in different ways and from different areas of the sea. Some species are caught in a variety of ways and this range shows that, within a species, some may be fished sustainably whilst others unsustainably. ‘Best choices’ are rated 1 and 2, Fish to Avoid are rated 5. Ratings 3 and 4 mean don’t eat too often.” So quite simply, the higher the number towards No.5, the higher the species ranks on the endangered list and should be avoided to help with the survival of the species for generations to come.

This system has been developed by the Marine Conservation Society to help consumers choose the most environmentally sustainable fish.

     + Publications: 

The South African based I&J Fisheries Company annually releases a publication which provides very detailed insight on many seafood purchasing and distributing Company’s, fishing practices, caught species and other topics with relevant information according to their knowledge and all-over practices. Although not a cheap purchase for a Handbook, the Information provided shows and provides a massive amount of very clear literature, statistics and beautifully laid out marine research and their undertaking practices. Much recommended!  

“The Yearbook, covering the fishing industry for over 40 years, is our Fishing Industry Handbook (also available on CD). It contains almost 500 pages of valuable basic information about the fishing industry including fish catches by species, fish imports and exports, all details of fishing vessels, what they are licensed to catch and lots of other valuable information.









The Fishing Industry Handbook and the CD contain information on:

• Fishing rights allocations

• Fish catch data

• Imports and exports of fish trade and commodities

• Organisations and associations involved in the fishing industry

• Contact details of fishing companies, factories, processors and traders

• Scientific articles

• Suppliers to the industry

• A classified buyer’s guide

The Fishing Industry Handbook and the CD also list over 3,000 registered boat-owners with vessel specifications. A classified buyers guide and contact details of suppliers and their services to the Southern African fishing industry.

The Fishing Industry Handbook and the CD are bought by fishing company executives, fishing boat owners, fish factory managers, traders in fishery commodities, importers and exporters, fish wholesalers and retailers, fishery research institutions, universities, financial institutions, government departments, foreign consulates and embassies.”

Info taken from the George Warman Publications Website – click here should there be any Interest for a purchase of any yearly available publications. 

     + Other similar links and past Newspaper Articles:

• Namibia’s Success Leaves South African Fishing Industry Shrugging Its shoulders (external Blog with Newspaper articles)

• Excellent Blog Post from Namibia Focus about Walvisbaai and its past history incl. fisheries (German Text)

• Multiple excellent Newspaper Articles with complete layout and Graphics from a release in 2018 by the Namibian Times (e-Version) 

     + Past Blog Posts with similar Information:

• Namibia Fresh-Water angling and diverse species

• 14 outstanding Namibian Products

• Conservation practices and enterprises within Namibia 

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