Hake Trawl


The demersal trawl hake fishery started in the 1890’s and is South Africa’s most important valuable fishery. It has consistently accounted for more than one half of the rand value of South Africa’s 22 commercial fisheries. In 2016, the hake trawl fisheries landed a combined 132,000 tons of hake with a quayside value in excess of R3,3 billion.

The South African hake resource consists of two species, the shallow-water Cape hake (Merluccius capensis) and the deep-water Cape hake (Merluccius paradoxus). Both species are targeted by four recognised hake targeted fisheries, namely the Deep-sea Trawl; Inshore Trawl; Hake Longline; and Hake Handline fisheries.

The inshore trawl and handline sectors mainly operate off the south and east coasts, while the deepsea trawl and longline fleets mainly operate off both the west and south coasts. Right holders in the demersal trawl fisheries (i.e. the deep-sea and inshore trawl fisheries) also target sole and horse mackerel. However, the exploitation of hake is the largest and most commercially important component for those participating in all four hake fisheries.

Prior to 1978 both the deep-sea and near-shore trawl sectors were largely unregulated, and participants were not restricted to a maximum catch limit. The incursion of foreign fleets during the 1960s culminated in a peak catch of close to 300 000 tons in the early 1970s.

Matters changed when in 1977 South Africa declared a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ). In 1978, the demersal trawl industry was formally separated into inshore and offshore sectors, and a global annual TAC was set for both hake species, to be divided between the sectors. The TAC was relatively conservative in order to rebuild fish stocks. An annual TAC was and continues to be set for Agulhas sole which is part of the hake inshore trawl fishery.

Management of the Hake Fisheries

Individual quotas were introduced in 1982. Since then, an annual TAC has been set for both hake specie, and a separate TAC set for Agulhas sole.

The annual determination of the hake TAC is split amongst the 4 hake sectors. The Deep-sea Trawl fishery gets ±84% of the TAC; the Inshore Trawl fishery is allocated ±6% of the TAC; Hake Longline fishery is allocated ± 6,4%; and Hake Handline the balance of ±3,6%.

The TACs have been determined on the basis of various assessments which have developed over time. Since 1991, the South African hake resource has been managed using Operational Management Procedures (OMPs). An OMP is essentially a combination of pre-specified methods of data collection and analysis, coupled with a set of simulation- tested decision rules which specify exactly how the regulatory mechanism is to be computed each year. In the case of South African hake, the regulatory mechanism is a TAC, the value of which is calculated from stock-specific monitoring data (commercial CPUE indices and indices of abundance derived from demersal research surveys). Implicit in the OMP approach is a schedule of OMP revisions every 4 years to account for updated data sets and possible changes in resource and fishery dynamics.

An important consideration in the development of the recent hake OMPs (OMP-2006, OMP-2010 and now OMP-2014) has been the certification of the South African hake trawl fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The fishery first obtained this prestigious eco-label in 2004, and was the first fishery in Africa to be MSC certified. Namibia’s hake trawl fishery is also MSC certified. The fishery was successfully re-certified in February 2021 for a further period of 5 years. MSC certification has provided substantial economic benefits to the fishery as it has access to the lucrative European and North American markets.

The Hake Inshore Trawl Fishery

The hake inshore trawl (and sole) fisheries operate on the inshore trawl grounds located between Cape Agulhas in the west and the Great Kei River in the east. Vessels operating in the inshore fishery may not exceed 35m in length.

Vessels operating in the fishery usually trawl throughout the traditional “inshore” area i.e. in waters shallower than the 110m isobaths, but are not restricted from operating in deeper water. By contrast, vessels operating in the deep-sea trawl fishery may not operate in water depths of less than 110 metres or within 20 nautical miles of the coast, whichever is the greater distance from the coast.

Trawling for Agulhas sole takes place in water depths of 50-80m, mainly between Mossel Bay and Struisbaai, in areas where the substrate consists of mud/shale.

The hake inshore trawl fishery has faced substantial difficulties over the recent past with increasing abundances of shallow water hake migrating further offshore. As a result, a number of hake inshore trawl right holders had abandoned the fishery and moved their operations (and quotas) offshore and combined their inshore trawl quotas with their deep-sea trawl hake quotas.

Between 2005 and 2015, long term fishing rights were allocated to to 16 operators. These rights expired in December 2015. On 20 December 2016, the Minister of Fisheries allocated 15-year long fishing rights to 27 operators, thus substantially increasing the number of right holders in the fishery. A total of 37 rights were allocated after the Minister concluded an internal appeals process in late 2018 but this was reviewed and set aside by the Western Cape High Court in August 2019. The Minister’s appeal decisions in this fishery have been successfully challenged on no less than 4 consecutive occasions. 

The Minister finally published a further revised set of decisions in this fishery on 16 December 2021. As a consequence she allocated 70% of the hake and sole TAC to the historic right holders (15) and the remaining 30% of the TAC is shared amongst 17 new entrant right holders.

Hake Inshore Trawl Fishery Sector Facts & Figures

  • Number of Right Holders: 32 
  • Value of Catch (2021, Quayside): R550 million
  • TAC (2022): 8131 tons
  • Employment Creation: 4500 jobs
  • Rights Valid Until: 31 December 2031

The Hake Deep-Sea Trawl Fishery

In 2005, long term fishing rights were allocated to 45 operators (reduced to 32 before 31 December 2020). These rights expired on 31 December 2020 but right holders continued operations under an “exemption” authorised in terms of section 81 of the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998. The reduction in individual right holder numbers has been the result of two significant fishing right buyouts in 2012 and in 2018. The first involved the Oceana Fishing Group’s procurement of rights owned by Lusitania Fishing. The Second involved a much larger series of transactions which saw Sea Harvest and a consortium of black investors purchase hake trawl fishing rights held by the Viking Fishing group.

Commencing in the 1890’s, the demersal trawl fishery (deep-sea and inshore sectors) is South Africa’s most important fishery and, for the last decade, it has accounted for approximately one half of the wealth generated from commercial fisheries. In the 1960’s foreign distant water fleets moved into the Southeast Atlantic, leading to substantial over-exploitation of demersal fish stocks off South Africa and Namibia. The International Commission for the Southeast Atlantic Fisheries (“ICSEAF”) was established in 1972 in an attempt to control the rapidly escalating fishery. But it was only the declaration of the 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone in 1978 and subsequent exclusion of foreign fleets that enabled South Africa to reclaim its fish resources and begin to rebuild the demersal resources.

Until 1978 the demersal fishery was largely unregulated and participants were not restricted by fishing limits. An annual total allowable catch (“TAC”) was introduced in 1978 and individual quotas were introduced the following year. The fishery was also formally separated into deep- sea and inshore sectors. The Deep-sea Trawl allocation of the global hake TAC has remained remarkably stable, and between 1978 and 2004 it fluctuated between the levels of 140 000 tons (1979) and 133 000 tons (2004). The two species of Cape hakes contribute 80-90% to trawl catches made on the West Coast (mainly deep-water hake) and 60-80% to trawl catches made on the South Coast (mainly shallow-water hake). The balance is made up of various by- catch species many of which are utilised, and on average just over 90% of the catch is retained. The hake deep-sea trawling grounds are widespread on the Cape west coast in waters deeper than 200 metres. On the Cape south coast hake deep-sea trawlers may not fish in water depths of less than 110 metres or within 20 nautical miles of the coast, whichever is the greater distance from the coast, and trawling is focused primarily on two fishing grounds.

The hake deep-sea trawl fishery is an extremely capital intensive and South Africa’s flagship fishery. Existing participants have made substantial investments in vessels as well as processing and marketing infrastructure. The total value of assets in the fishery is determined to be more than R6,6 billion. The market value of the landed catch is worth more than R6 billion annually at current market prices. Although vessels as small as 30 metres in length operate in the fishery, more than 60 percent of deep-sea trawlers are between 45 metres and 50 metres in length. Fishing trips vary from less than a week to more than 30 days. For further facts and figures on this fishery, see https://www.sadstia.co.za/fishery/facts-and-figures/

On 28 January 2022, 28 right holders were granted 15 year duration rights until 31 December 2037. The fishery has seen significant consolidation of right holders since 2005 when more than 45 right holders participated in the fishery. Over the past 10 years we have seen significant consolidation of right holders by way of mergers and buy-outs mentioned above. The number of right holders may yet change after the upcoming appeals process which is set to close on 29 May 2022.

Hake Deepsea Trawl Fishery Sector Facts & Figures

  • Number of Right Holders: 28
  • Value of Catch (2021, Quayside): R6 billion
  • TAC (2022): 110,448 tons
  • Employment Creation: 7300 jobs
  • Rights Valid Until: 31 December 2037

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