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Government Reconfirms Support for Hake Trawl Fishery Certification

17 July 2012

SOUTH AFRICA - The release of the independent certifier’s annual surveillance report for South Africa’s hake trawl fishery confirmed that the fishery retains its MSC certificate, offering assurances to local stakeholders as well as international markets that its management is consistent with the MSC's stringent environmental sustainability measures.

All certified fisheries have to undergo an annual surveillance audit, which is carried out by an independent assessment team.

The hake trawl fishery, comprising the inshore sector, which targets predominantly shallow water hake (Merluccius capensis) on South Africa's South Coast, and the offshore sector, which targets mostly deep water hake (M. paradoxus), on fishing grounds extending from the Namibian border southwards along the Agulhas fringe, was the first hake fishery in the world to be certified against the MSC's Environmental Standard for Sustainable Fishing. The fishery was originally certified in 2004 and recertified for another 5-year period in 2010.

Trawled hake sold to overseas markets accounted for around R1.9 billion (US$ 231 million) in annual revenue in 2010, with the industry employing approximately 6,500 people. There is increasing global demand for sustainable seafood that can be traced back to fisheries with credible third party certification and many European, North American and Australasian markets now demand such certification from their suppliers. Retailers in South Africa are also increasingly following this global trend. Supported by industry, government and market stakeholders the hake trawl sector's MSC status places it amongst the best managed fisheries in the world, helping to maintain its presence and opening new doors into these markets.

Steady progress has been made against the existing conditions of certification. The surveillance report notes that the most recent stock assessment shows an improvement in Merluccius paradoxus (deep water Cape hake) levels above the recovery objectives of the Operational Management Procedure. As well as continued implementation of a precautionary approach to the management of hake stocks, good progress can also be seen in understanding the seabed impacts of the fishery. Progress was also noted in addressing bycatch issues in the inshore fishery, including establishing an industry-science forum in which bycatch mitigation plans are being developed.

Though satisfied that the fishery has the requisite processes in place to ensure long-term sustainability the assessment team raised questions over the adequacy of current observer coverage, indicating that the delivery of research plans will depend on appropriate allocation of staff and finances. In the absence of adequate resources, there should be a focused prioritisation of those tasks that are essential to the operation of a sustainable fishery. Further concerns about the lapse of the Government’s Offshore Resource Observer Programme led the reviewers to generate new conditions that will encourage the reinstatement of this programme. Progress against these and earlier conditions will be reviewed at the third surveillance audit in March 2013.

The MSC's Southern Africa Programme Manager, Martin Purves, said: "It is very reassuring to know that the South African government fully supports the certification of the hake trawl fishery and are taking the necessary steps to ensure that further conditions pertaining to the deployment of scientific observers, as well as improving the enforcement systems within the fishery, are implemented. The certificate holder, the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA), has worked tirelessly with government scientists and managers as well as other stakeholders to ensure that the fishery meets international best practice. The fishing industry, government and other stakeholders should be congratulated on these results."

"Certification has led to a number of environmental benefits such as the rebuilding of stocks, reductions in seabird interactions with fishing gear and improvements in the management of bycatches. Resource sustainability and the strong market support this fishery has, is moving industry toward further investments in catching, processing and value addition which can only lead to economic and social benefits for everyone employed in the sector."

In recent years certified hake products have shown constant growth in global markets. Consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Australia are already familiar with South African hake. MSC certified hake products have now also penetrated markets as diverse as the Czech Republic, Mauritius and Ghana. "South African consumers can also be assured that their favourite fish comes from a sustainable source whenever they see the familiar blue ‘fish with a tick’ logo on hake packaging," Purves continued.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) recently stated that it would like to reassure the fishing industry as a whole – owners and workers alike – that it is committed to reinstating the required scientific observer programme as well as putting the marine research vessels back at sea to ensure continued certification of the fishery against the MSC Standard.

Selby Bokaba, departmental spokesperson, said: "DAFF has noted the audit report compiled by the assessment team and wishes to offer its unwavering support to the Industry as a whole. We will work closely with the Industry to ensure that all the new conditions are met. We are committed to meeting all the necessary requirements to ensure that the best value for money is obtained from our fish stocks and that access to all markets, old and new, is guaranteed. Having the fishery independently certified to the MSC global standard does not only help the department to improve its own systems of managing, particularly the hake trawl fishery, but it also ensures that it meets the highest standards of sustainable management of the stock and add value to it. The relationship between DAFF and the MSC is solid and strong".

Roy Bross, Secretary of SADSTIA, added: "Co-management, that is the consultative and cooperative aspects of fisheries management, has become an ever more necessary feature of MSC certification in general. It is very encouraging to observe the commitment to teamwork going forward; firstly between Industry and the Authorities but also on the part of the broad body of involved Stakeholders who also play a role".

Industry and DAFF have agreed to establish an MSC Liaison Committee which should be fully implemented by August 2012. This committee should ensure closer cooperation between the certified fishery and the relevant government departments so that certification conditions are met and the recommendations from the assessment team are implemented. Both the client and government reiterated that they are committed to ensuring that the SA hake fishery continues to be viewed by international markets as a well-managed, sustainable fishery that is managed according to principles based on international best practice.

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