Swapo company targets fishing in protected breeding area

A COMPANY co-owned by Swapo has been among entities lobbying the government to harvest horse mackerel from a protected seabed area for 25 years.

The area serves as a breeding ground for fish and the development of juvenile fish stocks in the ocean.

Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Derek Klazen has since taking office refused to ease those restrictions, despite mounting pressure and several meetings.

Documents seen by The Namibian show that an association representing aggrieved companies directly approached President Hage Geingob in June this year to intervene after he failed to convince the former and current fisheries ministers to allow the catches in the protected area.

The issue was discussed at a Cabinet meeting chaired by the President two weeks ago.

At the heart of this dispute is a regulation introduced in 1997 by the government which limits fishing to less than 200 meters from the isobath of the sea.

An isobath is an imaginary depth line or contour underwater.

The regulation in question was intended to protect the distribution of eggs and breeding grounds for fish, including the lucrative horse mackerel industry.

Experts believe that pelagic species such as horse mackerel are found at an isobath of around 200 to 400 m.

From 400 m, there are deep-sea species such as hake and monkfish.

Politically connected companies are now lobbying the government to remove the restriction – supposedly to save jobs in the sector.

The Namibian established that one of the companies pushing for the removal of fishing restrictions is Gendev Fishing, a company linked to Swapo and the vice president.

The Namibian reported in 2018 that Swapo held 49% of the capital of Gendev Fishing Resources (Pty) Ltd, which in turn owns 60% of Gendev Fishing Group.

Vice President Nangolo Mbumba’s wife, Sustjie, holds a stake in Gendev Fishing Group through her company Dun-Al Fishing.

Gendev chief executive Peter Strydom did not respond to questions this week about the company’s support for fishing in a special area.

Another company pushing for the restriction to be lifted is Seaflower Pelagic Processing (SPP), which has been renamed Princess Brand Processing (PBP) owned by businessman Adriaan Louw.

SPP is linked to the Fishrot scandal and was once part of a joint venture with the national fishing company Fishcor.

That partnership fell through after the government pulled out of Louw’s joint venture, which the High Court called “parasitic”.

Louw declined to comment on the latest offer to fish in a restricted area.

‘I am awaiting a response from Cabinet,’ he said yesterday.

In the past, Klazen has not bowed to industry pressure to catch fish in restricted areas.

Former acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana has also blocked attempts to scrap the 25-year rule.

Klazen is reportedly under pressure from Gendev and Princess to remove the restrictions, however.

He is now said to have succumbed to the pressure and is considering sending two ships to the area on a trial basis.

The ministry also reportedly intends to use ships owned by the companies, as the ministry’s vessels are not seaworthy.

Klazen said yesterday: “It is not true that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources will send two vessels to sample fish in the 200m isobath zone.

“What is true, however, is that the Department besieged Cabinet with a submission to alert them and seek their agreement for the Department to grant a temporary reprieve in lifting trawling restrictions in the 200m isobath .

“The reasons . . . need to investigate the claims of the wetland horse mackerel sub-sector that all horse mackerel biomass moves within the area of ​​the 200 m isobath during winter conditions and reverses during seasonal summertime, and further that their fishing landings would improve exponentially if they were allowed to fish in the isobath…”

Klazen said there are no laws prohibiting trawling in the 200m isobath at this time.

However, the ministry has over the years introduced various resource management control measures for the preservation of healthy fisheries, he said.

“Trawling restrictions were necessary to reduce excessive bycatch of sardines in indiscriminate trawling and for the preservation of juvenile fish species.

“As such . . . it is imperative that the ministry be in possession of the most recent data to justify keeping the ban in place or to consider new conditions under which the ban can be lifted permanently or provisional.

“That’s basically why the department made a submission to Cabinet. As soon as the Cabinet decides on the matter, the industry will be duly informed,” said the Minister.

‘SELF-SERVICE’

Operators and scientists who spoke to The Namibian say the companies involved prefer profits to the preservation of the country’s marine resources.

“They want to go into prohibited waters so they can fill their boats fairly quickly,” a fisheries ministry official said.

A fisheries scientist said catching fish in the restricted area could lead to the extinction of species like horse mackerel.

PRESSURE

The Wet-Landed Horse Mackerel Association is lobbying the government to remove the restrictions.

Its chairman, Jason Angala, wrote a letter to Cabinet Secretary George Simata on September 8 asking the government to ignore its rules.

He copied to Mbumba, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Klazen, Minister of Finance Iipimbu Shiimi and Minister of Labour, Job Creation and Industrial Relations Utoni Nujoma .

“[I] respectfully requests the urgent intervention of Cabinet to support our line ministry and supporting ministries to allow the few wet vessels to operate in exclusive areas in known areas where schools of horse mackerel are present with immediate effect,” said he wrote.

The association explained why Gendev and Louw’s Princess are on the ropes.

Angala claimed that the government does not support the horse mackerel sector.

“There was no constructive response from the fisheries minister from the August 29 meeting until September 7,” he said.

The 200m isobathic restriction zone, according to Angala, is currently not official law.

“The decision to introduce a restriction at the 200 meter depth level was made arbitrarily and was not based on any scientific research or recommendation to protect our marine resources, but rather to protect the purse seine industry from interference in the 1990s and early 2000s,” Angala said.

A purse seine is a large net used to surround a school of pelagic fish.

“The proposed relaxation is minimal or no risk in terms of resource conservation,” Angala said, despite concerns that the horse mackerel stock has been declining over the years due to overfishing.

He said the main tool for conserving fish should be the total allowable catch (TAC) system.

Angala said the wetland horse mackerel sector currently catches only 15% to 20% of the sector’s total allowable catch, while employing many Namibians in the horse mackerel sector.

The 2022 TAC is 330,000 tonnes, the majority of which is caught by freezer trawlers and exported without processing on land.

“We have not been given any handicap as is the case in other fisheries around the world in favor of water and all the benefits it brings to a national economy,” Angala said.

He said the sector employs 1,270 people, with the potential for 810 additional jobs if the restriction is lifted.

That would translate to 350 jobs if Gendev received a quota boost, and 450 if Princess were to open its 2020-built horse mackerel cannery.

Angala said Gendev and Princes employed around 1,300 Namibians.

“Both factories have been virtually idle since May 2022, with general salaries and wages without any revenue,” he said.

“The association informed Minister Klazen that paying salaries and maintaining jobs would only be possible if the anchored vessels could start fishing in the exclusive zone no later than September 1, 2022,” he said. .

* This article was produced by The Namibian’s investigative unit. Send us news tips from your secure email at [email protected]