POOR catches in foreign waters have forced Etosha Fishing Corporation to sell all three of its purse seine a net which may be drawn into the shape of a bag vessels, resulting in the retrenchment of 19 employees.
The three-year ban on local pilchard catches imposed in 2018 has left the company with no other choice but to deploy its vessels to neighbouring Angola and other foreign waters in an effort to sustain jobs and the running costs of these vessels.
"Low catch rates have compounded the financial burden of operating our vessels in foreign waters, which has left the company with no other choice but to sell all our purse seine vessels. This means that we are no longer in a position to provide employment to the crew of these vessels," Nezette Beukes, acting MD of Etosha Fishing, explained.
She added that some of the employees affected are net workers.
The three vessels are the 'Prowess', 'Advance' and 'Morgenster'.
Beukes said negotiations with the recognised union, the Namibian Seamen and Allied Workers Union (Nasawu), officially started in January. Formal notification was also issued to the Office of the Labour Commissioner on the matter.
"Affected staff members were initially informed of possible retrenchments as early as December 2018. We wanted to make sure that our employees are well-informed from the start of the process to avoid any uncertainty, and to ensure transparency throughout the process," she added.
Nasawu vice president Epson Kavekuire, who conducted the negotiations on behalf of the retrenched staff, expressed his satisfaction with the manner in which the process was concluded.
"As a union, we oppose any job losses, but Etosha is caught in a very difficult position. If they cannot catch, they cannot provide work," he observed.
Etosha Fishing still operates one vessel, the Iona, which was converted to a refrigerated seawater vessel at a substantial cost in 2018 to be able to fish in local waters, landing horse mackerel fresh for processing at its cannery at Walvis Bay.
The company operates the oldest cannery in Namibia, and currently employs 44 permanent workers and close to 550 seasonal staff at its cannery.
The mainstay of its business over the years has been the canning of pilchards for leading brands such as Lucky Star and Glenryck SA.
In response to Namibia's dwindling pilchard resource, Etosha started importing frozen pilchards as far back as 2010, and thereafter annually increased it for processing on local soil in order to sustain its operations and jobs at its cannery at Walvis Bay. It also invested significantly in thawing equipment to process the imported pilchards.
The company also spearheaded value-addition to horse mackerel in 2013 when it became the first company to successfully can locally caught horse mackerel under its own product range called Efuta. This brand celebrated its fifth anniversary in December 2018, with nearly five million cans sold annually. In December 2017, fisheries minister Bernhard Esau announced that Namibia will not harvest pilchard for the next three years, due to climate change.
Consequently, the total allowable catch (TAC) for pilchard was set at zero metric tonnes for the years 2018-2020 in order to allow the species to recover.
It was already affecting job security, and more job losses were forecast. The only hope for saving jobs in the pilchard industry was by allocating horse mackerel quotas.
The aggressive exploitation of Namibia's pilchards before independence, and poor decisions by the fisheries ministry since then, exacerbated by growing seal populations and climate change, have all been blamed for a situation from which there does not appear to be any turning back for the industry.