‘Grant fishing manufacturing status’

The fishing industry ‘ one of the country’s largest employers and foreign currency earners ‘ hit rough waters four years ago due to rising production costs coupled with a sharp decline in the international price of fish and marine products.

Namibian Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Abraham Iyambo told The Southern Times that it would take up to two years for the industry to fully recover, adding that the government would make a collective effort with players in the sector to improve the fortunes of the sector.

Top priority for the industry, Iyambo said, would be to steer the fishing sector from an exporter of primary products to value addition by granting players in the business manufacturing sector status. The fisheries sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) continues to decline from a negative 9.1 percent in 2004 to -17.4 percent, statistics from the Bank of Namibia (BoN) reveal.

More importantly would be for government to relook at taxes, which are being levied on fishing companies, and possibly remove some of them, Iyambo said in an interview.

He said that a key weakness of the sector is that it had not been granted manufacturing status with most of its products, which are exported in their raw form, not being marketed effectively.

“Time has come for the fishing industry to get incentives. We have to relook at the multiple costs the industry is subjected to and possibly remove some of these costs which are an impediment to the growth of the industry,” Iyambo said.

Government levies fishing companies on both caught and uncaught fish whilst there are also licences for vessels, service tax, Namport tax, municipality taxes as well as the normal government tax, amounting to double taxation.

Lack of financial support from local financial institutions and under-investment in the sector, has also resulted in some of the fishing companies using old and worn-out vessels.

Iyambo said that unlike other sectors such as agriculture, the fishing sector has not had any contingency support from the government, especially amongst small operators.

“We are looking to see what we can do for the fishing sector. The issue is not to deny it and not to be shy, some other countries such as New Zealand, Chile and the European Union have big budgets to support their fishing industries and they are our major competitors,” Iyambo said.

The expected poor performance of the fishing industry has also been attributed to a reduction in the total allowable catches (TAC) for some of the major fish species during the 2006/7 fishing season.

The hake fish quota saw a reduction of 50 000 tonnes to stand at 130 000 tonnes. Similarly, the TAC for monkfish have been reduced to 9 500 tonnes, representing a reduction of 2 000 tonnes from the previous level.

The TAC for orange roughy also went down to 1 100 tonnes from 2 050 tonnes during the previous fishing season.

Government argues, much to the chagrin of industry players, that the reduction in the TACs, especially for hake, had been necessitated by the fact that the biomass for the hake larger than 36 cm, which is regarded as fishable size has declined by 35 percent from 280 000 to 182 000 tonnes since 2005 hake stock surveys.

BoN in its quarterly bulletin to June 2006 said that the reduction in the TAC is expected to reduce the activities of the on-shore processing, and thereby affect the manufacturing sector negatively.

“The high international oil prices as well as the prevailing strong domestic currency could also contribute to the poor performance in the fishing sector,” BoN said in the quarterly bulletin.

Iyambo also said that harvesting of hake is going to cease for a month the whole of October this year to allow the breed to recover.

October is the breeding month of hake. “To be able to protect the species we have no choice but to reduce the quotas and close some areas for fishing,” he said.

The government also said that it had managed to clamp down on poaching adding that regular on-land and offshore patrols had ensured that there was no poaching on Namibian waters.

Iyambo said marine poaching was dealt a hammer blow in the early 1990s when government made more than ten arrests and confiscated illegal fishing vessels sending a clear message to poachers that the country “is ready to protect its natural resources.”

The fisheries minister said that the only problem they are facing now is ship captains who obstruct inspectors when they are doing their jobs. The job of inspectors is made worse by a spot fine, which Iyambo said is very low.

The spot fine for fishing vessels is N$300 (about US$50) and the legal courts can only award bigger fines.

The ministry has two patrol planes and two vessels patrolling the country’s waters around the clock.

“We have managed to control poaching, if anybody has to do it, they know what to face,” Iyambo said.

CAPTION:Namibia’s Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Abraham Iyambo.

September 2006
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