Windhoek-The Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernhardt Esau, has described the poor harvest of pilchards last year as an unusual phenomenon that is currently being investigated by scientists in the ministry.
Speaking in the National Assembly last week Thursday, Esau explained that the TAC (total allowable catch) for pilchards decreased by about 17 000 metric tons (mt) from about 31 000 mt in 2012 to 14 000 mt in 2016.
This represents a 34.4 percent decrease.
He revealed that the country recorded 31 000 mt in 2012, followed by 25 000 mt in 2013, 30 000 mt in 2014, 25 000 mt in 2015 and 14 000 mt in 2016.
He added that the poor harvesting might have been caused by a possible movement of the fish to deeper waters due to the unusually high sea surface temperatures experienced in 2015/2016.
“We suspect it may be caused by recent stock movements, or predation by seabirds and seals, or other natural mortality factors,” he noted.
Esau therefore promised to report back on what caused the low landings in 2016 after the current stock assessment work is completed.
He also pointed out that as a pelagic fishery pilchard also exists in Angolan waters and there is evidence that the two countries share the same stock, at least in a large part of the northern Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
South Africa also has pilchard and it is said that the only factor keeping the South African pilchard stock separate from Namibia’s stock are the strong upwelling currents in the Lüderitz area.
“If a fishery stock is straddling or shared between two countries, it is possible that even if one country does not catch it, the other country could catch the same fish in their waters,” he said.
Esau informed parliament that the Namibian government has concluded a fisheries memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Angola and is now finalising a similar one with South Africa aimed at addressing management issues related to shared stocks.
At the regional level, the Benguela Current Commission also addresses issues of shared stock.
He added that in order to stabilize the pilchard fishery, the fisheries ministry is in the process of developing a pilchard management plan to better articulate all management measures that it (Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources) is putting in place to ensure sustainability of the stock.
“We are increasingly canning horse mackerel in factories that were originally canning pilchard only. This is increasingly sustaining the jobs in these canneries and hence reducing raw material dependence on pilchard,” he said.
Meanwhile, Esau said 955 Namibians were employed in the pilchard fishing industry, compared to 1 701 Namibians employed in 2015.
This decrease, he added, reflected the reduced landings in 2016 which necessitated the use of only one cannery instead of the usual two canneries and reduction in the number of fishing vessels.
The industry also imported pilchard from Morocco in 2016 to keep Namibian jobs afloat.