SA aquaculture: the catch of the day?

South Africa is faced with the unique opportunity to implement international best practice when establishing its aquaculture industry, says Terry Bennett from South Africa’s largest and oldest fishing company Irvin and Johnson. Issue Date: 16 February 2007

South Africa is faced with the unique opportunity to implement international best practice when establishing its aquaculture industry, says Terry Bennett from South Africa’s largest and oldest fishing company Irvin and Johnson .
Steve McVeigh reports on Bennett’s views of business and aquaculture.

Aquaculture is a new and rather small industry in South Africa. It has the specific, and possibly unique benefit that this developing industry can be planned, established and managed on internationally recognised best practices from the beginning. From presentations and discussions at the recent National Aquaculture Workshop held in Cape Town, it is clear that the fledgling industry will require focused cooperation and commitment from its two major role-players – industry and government.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is an urgent need for the focused development of aquaculture in South Africa,” stresses Terry Bennett, Ix’s general manager aquaculture/technical. “The opportunity is there if industry is prepared to go for it. world’s white fish supply has decreased from 12 million tons in 1998 to 6,5 million tons today, and is becoming a difficult commodity to source bearing in mind increased demand.”

State of the industry South Africa’s main white fish species harvested is hake (Merluccius capensis and Merluccius paradoxus) and it is highly regarded internationally, says Bennett. ”The South African hake resource has been fairly static since 1995 and the total allowable catch (TAC) has been retained at a level of 140 000 to 150 000 whole wet tons per year since that time.

However, the international drop in the supply of other key white fish species, such as cod from North Sea, Iceland and Canada, has increased the demand for other white fish species. African hake is no exception,” explains Bennett.

“Worldwide demand for fish is increasing as a result of the increased world population and a move towards healthier eating. Since the 1990s the graph of fish consumption has steadily increased and the supply of wild fish has been static, with the balance supplied by aquaculture. It is foreseen that the wild supply will at best remain static or decrease, and this means the aquaculture industry needs to fill the gap,” says Bennett.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food-producing sectors and currently accounts for almost 50% of the world’s food fish. The FAO projects an additional 40 million tons of aquatic food (wild-harvested and farmed) per year will be required by 2030 to maintain the current per capita consumption.

“We already have salmon, trout, catfish, tilapia and other species that can help fill this gap, but at the present growth rate it will be insufficient to meet the increased demand, and that is where the opportunity lies,” suggests Bennett. ”People have to eat and if in 2030 there isn’t 40 million tons of aquatic product available they will eat something else, perhaps chicken.

The opportunity is there if industry is prepared to go for it.” Competition for coastline property With its strong currents South Africa has a high-energy coastline and there aren’t many places where cage or line culture can be carried out in the sea.

Coastal property developers are also buying up land along the coast for high-end market developments. Many of these areas are equally suitable for mariculture, bringing property developers and mariculture operators in direct competition for suitable sites. “Suitable sites [for aquaculture] are limited and many are rapidly being developed for other purposes. We urgently need government to identify these sites and earmark them as future mariculture sites before they are taken over by other commercial enterprises,” stresses Bennett. “South Africa has ‘good people and facilities’ for research and development.

The problem up until now has been a lack of focus.” The existing fishing industry in South Africa is in an ideal position to drive the development of commercial aquaculture. It has a keen incentive to do so, given the looming potential shortage of white fish. It also has the finances, technical expertise, processing and marketing experience that can set a solid core business for the future industry. “Marine finfish farming is an emerging industry in South Africa,” says Robert Landman, Ix aquaculture manager. “To date only two companies, Espadon and Ix, have embarked on the development of local indigenous marine finfish species. The first step is to get wild fish to spawn in captivity. This can take up to seven years to achieve,” explains Landman.

”The technology to hatch and raise the juveniles isn’t new and there are several parallels that are already developed and can be applied to the South African species. But it takes time."