Observer Program

Hake trawl fishery ecosystem impacts and associated research

In addition to the routine research undertaken by DAFF – now the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry (DFFE), industry has voluntarily initiated its own investigations in the interest of better understanding the ecosystem and conservation aspects of the hake fishery. For the most part this work is driven by SADSTIA and through the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) in support of ecolabel certification by means of the MSC and consumer awareness through SASSI.

The research initiatives, conducted in collaboration with tertiary institutions, the government department scientists, NGOs and independent scientific monitoring companies, specifically reflect the actions required to close out any conditions of certification raised during the MSC assessment process. The Unit of Certification (UoC), defined in this instance as the deepsea and inshore trawl fishery sectors represented by SADSTIA and SECIFA, is awarded a 5-year certificate during the lifespan of which it is required to close-out any conditions. A Client Action Plan (CAP) is drafted laying out the strides the fishery intends to take to achieve this. Since the adoption of the new MSC Standard V2.1 and a further ‘raising of the bar’, there are a number of critical new milestones the fishery is required to meet. These are reflected in conditions linked to; Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species and benthic habitat impacts – specifically relating to Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs). However, it is important to reflect that where MSC conditions have not been raised then the fishery has been scored as meeting the global-best practice come to be expected of it. This applies to Primary (managed) bycatch, secondary (unmanaged) bycatch and overarching ecosystem impacts.

Longstanding management interventions in support of habitat protection include the Trawl Ring-Fence. This was implemented in 2004 by the deepsea and inshore trawl sectors to ensure that the fishery only operates in historically trawled areas that conceivably are not home to fragile habitat types. The two sectors also supported the development of 20 new offshore MPAs in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in order to protect most of the important marine habitat types that occur on the continental shelf.

Co-ordination of activities relating to habitats and VMEs is the responsibility of the SADSTIA VME Management Committee, first convened in February 2020.

A comprehensive guide to support data collection on marine invertebrates (Atkinson & Sink 2018) and posters to support VME indicator species identification at sea have been produced. A pilot project to develop a monitoring protocol for VME indicator organisms has been conducted and already observers conduct invertebrate sampling during one trawl per day on an ongoing basis.

WWF-SA and SADSTIA are in the process of finalizing a new agreement that builds on the successes and learnings of the 2016-2019 SADSTIA offshore trawl Fisheries Conservation Project (FCP). The second phase is set to commence in January 2021 and will span a 3 year time period.

Outlook for the Hake Fishery

Management of hake and fisheries in general aim for “sustainability”, which by definition can be the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level or, the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Sustainability therefore depends on your frame of reference. From an economic and job security standpoint for example, the sustainability of the fishery was recently called into question when the ongoing global pandemic forced most operations to radically innovate in order to continue to function under a “new normal”. Along the sea floor (the “habitat”) however things carried on blissfully unaware of COVID19, or perhaps the effects of a reduction in fishing effort are still to be seen. From whichever viewpoint you are looking, during 2020 the message seems clear enough – always innovate and improve – and we can hopefully envisage a positive change to our collective behaviours – something that the Oceana group perpetuates. What has remained unchanged is the demand for high quality, fresh and frozen seafood caught and processed in South Africa, with the guarantee that it is sourced from a sustainable well managed fishery.