Fishy plan to feed the poor has captive market

11 September 2016 - 02:00 By BOBBY JORDAN

The man in charge of a state-backed fishing experiment to help the poor intends feeding horse mackerel to students, hospital patients and prisoners.Hermanus businessman James Booi, whose 8,000-ton experimental fishing permit has prompted a court row, has submitted an affidavit detailing an ambitious plan to use the fish to alleviate poverty countrywide.He claims a "monopoly" of large fishing companies is exporting the high-protein species overseas, preventing it from reaching the local market.By contrast, Booi hopes to channel horse mackerel into a variety of government institutions. He was "intent on creating an industry and platform to expose this fish by means of [a] distribution channel created to help the National Government in providing food security by distributing horse mackerel to schools, hospitals and prisons", he said in his affidavit."This will stand to uplift communities in a way which has to date not been seen," Booi said. "The horse mackerel can potentially improve the physical and mental health of desolately poor communities, prisoners, patients in state hospitals and more."Booi's experimental permit, issued in December last year, has raised the hackles of the fishing industry, which last year landed only a fraction of the annual allowable horse mackerel catch.The permit was issued contrary to advice from department scientists and coincided with warnings about the state of the resource.A coalition of industry associations is challenging the legality of the permit in court. Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana claims the court challenge may be motivated by commercial rivalry and resistance to transformation. He said Booi's permit would facilitate a much-needed socioeconomic experiment.Ironically, the minister and senior fisheries officials are under fire from poor small-scale fishermen who claim the government has stalled a long-awaited small-scale fisheries policy aimed at alleviating poverty in poor coastal communities.Booi said in his affidavit he had spent close to R1-million preparing for the experiment, which was initially blocked by the department."The gross value of 8,000 tons of horse mackerel is certainly substantial and should result in an income of approximately R80-million," he said."However, set off against this income are substantial costs, including the vessel charter costs, salaries for the crew, insurance, fuel, processing and packing costs for the fish harvested, regulatory costs and fees (including harbour fees) and sale costs, including initial and subsequent investments in transport and marketing infrastructure in rural villages and towns. These costs are estimated at ...R75-million to R78-million."The department and the industry associations have declined to comment while the matter is before court.

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