Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Draft policy for marine agriculture sector
29 June 2007
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism


The principal challenges that the South African government seeks to address are poverty and unemployment. The contribution of capture fisheries to food security and employment has been in decline since the 1950s, partly due to overexploitation of resource. For example, the size of hake stocks is now ten percent (10%) less of what was caught 50 years ago. This trend has recently been exacerbated by shifts in the distribution of certain fish species, for example, thirty (30) years ago seventy percent (70%) of West Coast rock lobster was landed along the Northern Cape coast but today ninety percent (90%) of the fish are landed in the Cape Town vicinity. The decline in catches has resulted in the closure of a number of fish processing establishments, mainly along the West Coast, which has in turn led to job losses and economic hardship for people who historically found employment in the fishing industry. Marine aquaculture presents an opportunity to substantially increase the diversity of economic activity in these coastal areas. It also has the potential to create skills-based employment and income for coastal communities. Most leading fishing nations also have a thriving marine aquaculture industry.

This policy is aimed at promoting the development of an economically sustainable and globally competitive marine aquaculture industry in South Africa. At the same time it is imperative that the industry has minimum negative impact on the environment. The main purpose of the policy is to encourage acceleration of the development of the industry. A key principle is that the role of government is to facilitate and support this industry which will be driven by the private sector. The policy will be complemented by a Marine Aquaculture Development Plan (MADP), which will outline strategies for its practical implementation. Guidelines for the establishment and management of specific forms of marine aquaculture will also be developed. These will include new activities such as sea ranching, stock enhancement, the rearing of species for the aquarium-ornamental trade and sea-based cage farming. The MADP and the guidelines for aquaculturerelated activities are operational documents that will be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

For the purposes of this document, marine aquaculture (including sea ranching) is defined as:

    The farming of marine aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and plants in controlled or selected marine aquatic environments, with some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators etc. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated. (Nash, 1995)
Aquaculture (marine as well as fresh water) is one of the fastest growing food production systems in the world. Over the past 15 to 20 years it has developed into a global industry, with over 60 countries engaged in the production of more than 250 species of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and aquatic plants. World aquaculture production has grown at an average annual rate of 8.8 percent from 1950 to 2004. Despite this phenomenal global growth, Africa's contribution to the world's aquaculture production has remained disconcertingly low, accounting for less than 1 % of global production, while South Africa in turn contributes only about 1% of Africa's production. The contribution of the marine aquaculture industry to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of South Africa is a modest 0.004%. It is believed that with government facilitation and support the contribution of marine aquaculture to the GDP could increase significantly in the long run.

There are number of reasons for South Africa's relatively poor performance in the sphere of marine aquaculture. These include:

  1. A high-energy coastline (rough seas with strong wave and current action) with a limited number of naturally protected sites, which makes farming at sea difficult hence the majority of aquaculture operations are based on land;
  2. A coastal strip that is relatively pristine, highly sought after such that marine aquaculture competes with other activities such as tourism, recreation, real estate etc;
  3. A relatively recent acceptance of marine aquaculture as a viable economic activity and therefore limited investment was made in this activity by both government and private sector;
  4. Reluctance of financial institutions to lend money to potential farmers;
  5. Inadequate market-related services such as market information, market intelligence, information for consumers, infrastructure for marketing, marketing organisations, products or technology etc;
  6. Limited human resource capacity in aquaculture research, management, technical and advisory services;
  7. Administrative arrangements and processes that lead to complicated authorisation procedures; and
  8. Absence of a national marine aquaculture policy and a supporting legislative framework.
In spite of the constraints listed above, South Africa's aquaculture production has shown an increase over the past decade, with abalone farming showing the most significant growth. From a modest beginning in 1996 when total production of farmed abalone amounted to less than 1OOkg, production has increased to about 900 tons - with an export value of US$25 million (R175 million) in 2006. South Africa is now regarded as a leading producer of cultured abalone and this sector of the marine aquaculture industry continues to expand, possibly due to the bigger profit margins for this high-value resource. Growth in other farming sectors of lower value such as mussels, oysters, prawns and sea-weed has been modest; hence South Africa should therefore focus on high value resources.

In order for aquaculture to achieve the objectives of the South African government such as poverty alleviation and employment, the constraints mentioned above have to be addressed. The positive livelihood impacts of aquaculture are well known internationally and include provision of rural livelihoods, better income and new or alternative employment. In South Africa the industry has the potential to create several hundred more new jobs and substantial export revenue that could be derived mainly from high value species such as cultured abalone. In addition the industry provides products for the local market (mussels, oysters and finfish). The production of a variety of sea food products could also satisfy the local tourist market that is growing significantly.

Furthermore, the development of a successful marine aquaculture industry will provide South Africa with the opportunity to play a leading role in aquaculture development. This expertise could be shared with other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

In terms of this policy no restrictions are proposed to be placed on foreign participation. The Department will, however, carefully monitor the industry to ensure that national objectives are not undermined, for example, skills transfer, ownership and local employment.

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