Managing our pilchard quotas: job losses for three years, or job losses forever?

Progress Namibia - Managing our pilchard quotas: job losses for three years, or job losses forever?
18 December 2017

Some of you probably already know that a few weeks ago, Namibian Cabinet decided to set a zero quota for pilchards and sardines for the period from January 2018 until December 2020. The media has been a pot of mixed reactions. Some have been based on solid reporting, using scientific and reliable sources. Others have been more sensational. We are surprised that in some articles and editorials, sentiments were shared of the loss of jobs and killing of an industry as a result of this moratorium (and a blaming of previous quotas being handed out in dubious circumstances), without discussing how bad our pilchard situation is. Some even mentioned climate change and seals as the main culprit of this bad state. We need to be very real here. Yes, climate change most probably will have an impact - and of course this is a human-caused impact. Using seal populations as an excuse for the sorry state of our pilchard populations is a sad argument. We need to take responsibility that the biggest reason for the pilchard stocks coming down to 1% of historic populations is over-fishing. This needs to be tabled first and fore-most.

The Namibian Chamber of Environment delivered a strong statement on the recent decision of Cabinet. Recognizing that this was a difficult decision, having to weigh up fish resource sustainability with business interests and jobs, the NCE made clear that we have to remember that fish resource must take priority. Because without this resource, there will be no business or jobs. Without a healthy, productive fish resource, the entire marine ecosystem and the fisheries industry will suffer. The NCE suggests that a time moratorium is not really the answer - we need to continue until pilchard stock has reached an agreed healthy threshold level. In addition, regulations need to be put on by-catch, as there is little point to a moratorium if pilchards are continuing to be caught as by-catch.

One of the biggest lessons learnt from this process (and for all of our general decision-making, which makes us think back particularly to our Weekly a few weeks back on the global scientists' warning to humanity), is that decision-making must always consider scientific research and advice, and always be transparent.

We quote from the NCE statement:
"The MFMR has a dual role in the marine ecosystem – (i) of setting production quotas and (ii) of ensuring sustainability and a healthy ecosystem. The Ministry has clearly failed in this second role. Their failure to ensure a healthy ecosystem has led directly to a failure in ensuring production of the pilchard industry – the two are inextricably linked. The root of the problem goes to a lack of transparency and public accountability within the management of the marine ecosystem. Research data on stock assessments are not made public, how quotas are set are not made public, how quotas are allocated are not made public, catches and by-catches are not made public, the business arrangements within the sector are not made public. Marine fisheries management is shrouded in secrecy – and these are national resources that we are talking about. This needs to change, and it needs to change now. Openness, transparency, accountability and partnership are the underlying attributes that contribute to good governance, good decision-making and sustainability."

We would like to add that we should perhaps also discuss the merits and demerits of a large scale industrial fishing industry versus many small-scale fisheries (in the long term). Who benefits, what jobs are created, what investment is put in, and where do the fish ultimately go (especially in a food insecure country like Namibia)? Basically, artisanal versus industrial. This is a discussion that should be put on the table, and we will definitely follow up with this discussion in the new year.

Image Credit: Namibian Chamber of Environment