Government defends horse mackerel experiment as being good for the poor

31 August 2016 - 09:23 By Bobby Jordan
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Under-fire Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana has hit back at critics of a controversial state fishing experiment‚ claiming opposition to the project could be motivated by commercial rivalry.

Zokwana has come under the spotlight for backing an “experimental” permit to catch 8000 tons of horse mackerel to market to the rural poor.

The permit was allocated in December 2015 to Hermanus businessman James Booi‚ but is subject to a court challenge brought by two fishing industry associations.

In a statement on Tuesday the ministry defended the experiment‚ which it claimed was aimed partly at industry transformation. The experimental allocation was also intended to assess the state of the horse mackerel resource and to investigate whether the fish could be marketed as a source of protein to the rural poor.

“Firstly‚ the experiment itself seeks to not only determine more precisely the exact size‚ distribution and value of the South African horse mackerel fishery‚ but it importantly seeks to determine whether the South African consumer - and particularly those consumers in remote rural provinces who have little access to protein sources - is prepared to consume horse mackerel‚” the ministry said.

“It has been an historic trend of our fishery to harvest our horse mackerel and then to export almost all fish harvested to countries like Angola; Benin; DRC; Ghana; Nigeria and Togo without further benefaction on SA soil‚ and therefore with little to no job creation in SA.”

If successful‚ the experiment would also result in new entrants into the horse mackerel sector and create jobs in processing and marketing‚ the ministry said.

“The results of the experiment‚ if positive‚ will undoubtedly change the way South Africa fishes for‚ processes and markets its horse mackerel. This is perhaps what the SA commercial horse mackerel fishing industry fears the most as it will almost certainly remove the current hegemonic structure of the industry‚” the statement said.

Last week a coalition of non-government organisations lashed as the experiment as “irrational” and appealed to government to adopt a cautious approach to horse mackerel‚ which was downgraded to “threatened” on a consumer and retail watch-list.

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance pointed out that the 8000 ton experimental allocation was particularly concerning given that the entire 2015 horse mackerel catch was only 12 433 tons. In addition efforts to create socio-economic opportunities‚ while commendable‚ needed to take place within legal parameters of the Marine Living Resources Act‚ the alliance said.

- TMG Digital/The Times