Fears fish factory might stink out Mossel Bay

School feeding scheme loses out as processing plant switches to importing pilchards and sardines for animal feed.

Mossel Bay’s economy will soon receive a major boost if the establishment of a fishmeal and fish oil plant gets the green light. Afro Fishing, a local sardine-canning enterprise, has raised foreign capital of nearly R350 million to expand its operation. It is planning to process thousands of tons of pelagic fish species such as anchovies and red-eye herring at the plant and will provide an additional 200 people with seasonal work.

Tons of mackerel

However, not everyone is excited about the project and about 420 residents have signed an online petition to stop the factory. Hundreds of people also registered as interested parties; they want to know what impact the factory will have on the scenic seaside town on the Garden Route and whether there will be a stench permanently hanging over the town.

Afro Fishing Managing Director Deon van Zyl says the plant is applying for authorisation to build a state-of-the-art plant that will use the best-proven practices and technology available to combat the odour caused by fishmeal factories.

An air quality impact study conducted last year for the proposed project states that a so-called wet scrubber will prevent unpleasant odours from being released into the atmosphere. Regenerative thermal oxidation (RTO) technology will be used. It is already being applied abroad and the Mossel Bay plant will be the first in South Africa to use it. A team involved in the planned project recently visited a fishmeal factory in Peniche, Portugal where RTO is used to filter volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is full of praise for the technology.

However, the vast majority of Mossel Bay’s residents are still concerned that the town will follow the same path as Hout Bay and Gansbaai. In Hout Bay, there has recently been a flurry of complaints about the rotten smell coming from the local fishmeal factory and research is now even being done on the impact that bad smells can have on human health. In Gansbaai, the smell became so bad that a few years ago the fishmeal factory suspended operations during holiday periods because the smell was seen to have had a negative impact on tourist numbers.

The Mossel Bay community also fears that the factory is the precursor to the establishment of a fish farm, such as those now envisaged for the West Coast. Aquaculture, which is difficult to sustain, can pose serious environmental risks. The fish are kept in unnatural conditions and fed fishmeal; there are fears that, with a processing factory in the harbour, aquaculture may now be a step closer.

The editor of the online news platform Mossel Bay on the Line, Elsa Wessels, says that in South Africa the problems are worse than in other countries because the relevant authorities rarely apply and enforce the regulations and laws on water, air and environmental pollution.

“Will never-ending court cases await Mossel Bay residents, as is now the case in Saldanha Bay? And who’s going to see that fish quotas are maintained and the right fish species are caught?” These are some of the questions that Wessels recently asked her readers.

Afro Fishing was established in 2007 and changed owners last year. Records of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (Cipc) show that five of Afro Fishing’s directors resigned in 2018.

Afro Fishing director Shamera Daniels

Shamera Daniels, vice-chairperson of the South African Pelagic Fishing Industry Association (Sapfia) is still on Afro Fishing’s board with Johannes Breed, the only new director appointed.

The 37-year-old Breed, a chartered accountant by profession, has served on the boards of eight South African companies in the fishing industry since last year. The online Fish Information Service (FIS) also lists Breed as managing director of the Angolan company African Selection Trust (AST). AST’s website says the company’s vision is to refurbish or build fish factories to maximise production that will bring employment and food security to Angola.

AST has been spreading its wings in Southern Africa since 2017 and owns a 60% stake in the Namibian company Seaflower Pelagic Processing (Pty) Ltd. Namibian state-owned Fishcor owns the other 40%. The Namibian daily, The Namibian, reports that Breed, economist Adriaan Louw and lawyer Maren de Klerk, represent AST on Seaflower Pelagic’s board.

In 2017, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism reported that the Namibian fishing industry was outraged because an international interest group – referring to AST – had benefited from the allocation of a huge fishing quota to the state-controlled Fishcor. The Daily Maverick reported that the quota comprises 50 metric tonnes of mackerel per year for 15 years with an estimated value of R120 million per year.

At the time, it was said that at least five Namibian companies which could qualify as partners for Fishcor, had been overlooked. At least one, Bidvest Namibia, had to stop its operations in the meantime and about 1,200 people lost their jobs.

Seaflower Pelagic has just commissioned a fish factory of nearly R540m in Walvis Bay. The plant can process as many as 600 tonnes of mackerel per day.

If Johannes Breed is involved in AST’s operations in both Angola and Namibia, is he also the investor behind the R350m injection in Mossel Bay’s Afro Fishing? What is AST’s share in the other local fishing companies where Breed also serves on the boards? And what does all this mean for the local fishing industry?

Afro Fishing new MD Deon van Zyl

Afro Fishing Managing Director, Deon van Zyl, denies that the company is a subsidiary of AST and was only prepared to say that the money for the Mossel Bay fishmeal factory is a privately acquired investment from abroad.

Noseweek’s research shows that Norfund, the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries, started a private equity fund in Angola in 2010 and that several European banks and development funds have since joined Norfund. Angola Capital Partners (ACP) manages the fund. Its website is referring to six elected Angolan companies, including the African Selection Trust, in which billions have been invested for expansion over the past few years.

In Angola, it has brought progress for communities by creating jobs and empowering the local population. But in Namibia, more than a thousand people have reportedly lost their jobs, newspaper reports said.

The planned fishmeal and oil production is intended exclusively for the export market where it is sold as a component of animal feed. About 4kg of fish are needed to produce one kilogram of fishmeal. This means fish that could feed the local population is being exported to feed animals for meat production in wealthier countries. The cannery is currently supplying tinned fish to school feeding programmes in South Africa.

It is ironic how the fishing industry works: Afro Fishing’s canning plant has had to import thousands of tonnes of frozen sardines from Morocco since 2016 to meet the local market demand after fishing quotas were cut. This was a direct result of the drastic reduction in the total allowable catch (TAC) for sardines issued by the Fisheries department – from 90,000 tonnes in 2014 to 23,964 tonnes in 2017.

Van Zyl says Afro Fishing does not have fishing quotas itself so it will buy pelagic fish from companies that do have rights.

Afro Fishing seasonal workers

But what of Mossel Bay residents’ fears about fish farms, both in the sea and on land, and the possible accompanying environmental problems?

Experts agree that the chances are slim that Afro Fishing will also start a fish farm, because fishmeal and fish oil are already in high demand worldwide and are commanding top prices.

Yet it is not too far-fetched to believe that aquaculture may well be on its way to Mossel Bay. Johannes Breed’s father Jannie was for many years the managing director of Ridge Solutions Aquaculture in Angola, where shrimp stocks were grown widely for the export market.

Mossel Bay is regarded as the most suitable place in South Africa to start a Yellowtail fish farm. And last year the Mossel Bay Municipality hosted a controversial briefing on aquaculture.

The planned developments may create jobs and give the Mossel Bay economy a huge boost, but at what cost?

Norway’s support for Sub-Saharan projects
Norfund is Norway’s Development Finance Institution that was founded in 1997 by the Norwegian government. Its mandate is to support the building of sustainable businesses in poor countries and contribute to economic and social development. The fund is an active strategic minority investor wholely owned and funded by the Norwegian government.

At the end of 2018 Norfund’s com-mitted portfolio was US$2.6 billion and included more than 900 companies. Its strategy is to invest in sectors and countries where it can have the greatest impact, where the private sector is weak and access to capital scarce. The priority geographical areas are primarily Sub-Saharan Africa.

Norfund invests in three sectors, namely, clean energy; financial institutions; and food and agribusiness.
In South Africa it has invested in the Bronkhorstspruit Biogas Plant where electricity is produced from manure. Bio2Watt is the first commercially viable biogas organic waste project in South Africa and is located on the premises of one of the largest cattle feedlots and an agricultural stronghold in Gauteng

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