Fishing companies struggling to stay afloat

Braving the hardships
The fisheries and labour ministers met with hake fishing companies to see how the two parties can address various challenges faced by the industry.
Leandrea Louw
Barely recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, the fishing industry now has to navigate through more challenges brought on by the high fuel prices and accompanying inflation rates.

The minister of fisheries and marine resources, Derek Klazen, along with the minister of labour, industrial relations, and employment creation, Utoni Nujoma, met with the players in the hake industry in Walvis Bay to discuss how the two partners can meet each other halfway to address several challenges faced by the sector.

“We managed to push through the Covid-19 pandemic, and I am truly grateful that companies did not lay off any workers. We are now facing another crisis; the Ukrainian and Russian war which led to fuel prices skyrocketing. We decided to consult the industry to hear what strategy we can adopt to minimize the effects of these challenges. Through discussions we were made aware that the unions are demanding salary increments," explained Nujoma.

The minister said that it is legitimate to look at the best interests of workers, but sometimes in unforeseen crises, parties need to come to the table. "We have heard the industry and, on another platform, we will engage our social partners.”

Klazen said his ministry had taken note of the cry from the fisheries industry through the media. “It’s important that we hear from the industry what concerns them. Fisheries are constantly in the media and I thought it's time that we also come to the table, listen and give you our view. Most importantly, many fishing companies are struggling - for many reasons. They have to pay quota usage fees and the right holders. The new right holders look at the new market prices at auctions and demand those prices.”

Klazen called on new rights holders not to lose focus of government policy, which dictates that investment in the industry needs to happen. “I want to make it categorically clear: that policy is still in place. If you don’t adhere, we will need to have a serious talk somewhere along the line. We all need to come to the table; the situation we currently find ourselves in needs all hands on deck. We need to work together as a team - it’s not only government that needs to address this issue, but the private sector. The fishing industry is an important sector of our country, their worries are ours. This is a caring ministry and a caring government – we need to listen to our people.” Challenges

Peya Hitula, the managing director of Tunacor Limited, stated that mitigating factors at this crisis time is tricky. “How do you mitigate the fuel price? We don’t control the fuel price, the only thing we can control is our fishing operations. You try to minimise fleet movement, and we have done our level best not to create a situation that could result in job losses. It’s difficult to pass these prices on to our consumers. It is not a Namibian problem, but a global problem.”

According to Jurgen Sander from Seaworks, the company's fuel consumption has doubled over the past 18 months. “Eighteen months ago, our wet operating fleet spent N$5 million on fuel for an active fleet of four vessels. This has doubled to N$10 million. That is just related to fuel, there are additional costs with the increases. In terms of our finished product, it’s about N$4 to N$5 per kilo to finish the product - without doing anything else. We can’t control it and will only get through these times if we work together.”

Restricted zone

Klazen also made it clear that the 200 m isobaths restriction is being enforced for a reason. “Fishing companies sometimes like to threaten the ministry with things such as: ‘If you don’t do this, I’ll do this.' It should not be like this. The 200 m isobath is a sensitive issue. Before independence, our waters were free for all to fish to swim where they want, but once we reached independence, regulations were put in place for our fish to become more sustainable. This measure, the 200 m isobaths restriction, was put in place to allow our fish numbers to grow. Other measures were also put in place; such as TAC. Horse mackerel is trickier nowadays, and during the winter months, these fish disappear. But there is no evidence that these fish can be found in the 200 m isobath area. This has not been proven yet. The wet fish horse mackerel industry believes this is where the fish goes, and want to fish in this area.”

He said that the ministry plans to host a workshop where scientific facts can be presented by the ministry as well as by independent scientists. “We want to engage people who have done studies in this restricted zone and afterward, we can look at a way forward. We are regarded as one of the top countries when it comes to sustainable fishing in the world. The 200 m isobaths restriction we are enacting is commendable for other countries, we need to be very careful when dealing with this.”

Additional quota

Klazen also referred to companies demanding additional quotas to sustain their employees. “The agreement is with fishing companies, and they are the ones getting the quotas. Under these quotas, they must then employ workers. The people around this table have assured the ministry of labour that they are going to try their best to not retrench workers, and are even going to absorb some of the costs associated with this troubled time. That is the relationship we need to have.

The minister said that he intends to have a meeting with the horse mackerel industry soon and that he will also address the entire fishing industry once again.