Our oceans cover nearly three-quarters of the earth’s surface, and produce more than half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Some 97% of our water is here. It is a major influence on weather systems and a source of energy (the EU is looking at wave and tidal power to provide a tenth of the bloc’s power by 2050). It is also the home of a vast array of marine life – from whales to phytoplankton.

Over 12 000 species are known to occur in South African waters, “with almost a third of these species found nowhere else on earth” (WWF SA, 2017). South Africa, recognizing the economic potential of the ocean, has built its Operation Phakisa around it in 2014 (see “National strategy & government contact” heading). But there is a second reason why this page is under “Issues” on our website.

The blue in the Blue Planet is in crisis.

Our oceans have been mismanaged, or at best, not been managed at all. They have been overfished and been altered by pollution “in ways we’re still just beginning to understand” (Ecowatch, 2015; see also Carrington, 2017; Smillie, 2017). How to carry on with global economies and interaction while ensuring that there is still life in our oceans? The 14th of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiated by UN member states in 2015 is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” (UN, 2015). Member states and major fishing companies have pledged to prevent illegal fishing (Harvey, 2017) amongst other things.

Measures that will turn the tide, so to speak, include:

  • The setting of quotas on the amount of fish caught
  • Adopting measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
  • Establishing networks of marine parks in which/near which activities like building and mining are prohibited.
  • The UN High Seas Treaty coming into effect.


Populations of marine species are being fished to their limits globally. Ninety percent 90 percent of fish stocks are being taken from the world’s oceans at or beyond sustainable levels (Kituyi & Thomson, 2018).

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing

Read about the Port State Measures, a binding international law and “one of the most efficient – and cost effective – ways to fight IUU fishing”, at www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/417286/icode/.

Halting Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing represents a theft of revenue comparable to tax evasion. It reduces fish stocks, lowers local catches and harms the marine environment. It destroys fishing communities, particularly African, who lose opportunities to catch, process and trade fish (Jarrett, 2017).

Marine parks

The United Nations convention on biological diversity aims to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020 (UN, 2015). Some 6% of our oceans have been set aside for protection. The 2019 Greenpeace report In Hot Water: The Climate Crisis and the Urgent Need for Ocean Protection pushes for this percentage to reach 30% by 2030.

UN High Seas Treaty

Next year (2020) will hopefully see the UN High Seas Treaty passed (high seas refers to waters between national boundaries). It would pave the way to protect at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030.

International business environment

  • The African Fisheries Expert Network (Afri-Fishnet) is “a network of fisheries experts in Africa who are there to provide knowledge support and evidence-based policy recommendations to policy makers. It is a continental think-tank which uses the NEPAD/CAADP platform to influence policy reform in various African countries”. See www.afri-fishnet.org.
  • The Benguela Current Commission is a multi-sectoral inter-governmental initiative of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. See www.benguelacc.org.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas Campaign on Marine Litter www.cleanseas.org
  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) www.ccamlr.org
  • The Committee on Fisheries (COFI) exists as a subsidiary body of the FAO (see below).
  • CTA – Find the “Fisheries” option at http://agritrade.cta.int
  • Deep Sea Conservation Coalition www.savethehighseas.org
  • Find both “Aquaculture” and “Fisheries” under the themes option at www.fao.org, website of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). http://www.fao.org/fisheries/en/ Download the “State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) 2016” by the FAO at www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf
  • Fishing News Internationalwww.intrafish.com/fisheries/
  • GLOBAL DIALOGUE on Seafood Traceability https://traceability-dialogue.org/
  • Read Greenpeace reports like (December 2019) In Hot Water: The Climate Crisis and the Urgent Need for Ocean Protection.
  • Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)www.iora.net/en
  • International Association of Fish Inspectors (IAFI)www.iafi.net/
  • The International Maritime Organization is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping. See www.imo.org.
  • International Ocean Institutewww.ioinst.org
  • Marine Stewardship Council www.msc.org Certifying sustainable fishing
  • Find information on the Pan-African Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy Framework and Reform Strategy on the internet.
  • Read about Regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) at https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/international/rfmo_en
  • The Rockefeller Foundation runs an Oceans & Fisheries initiative. See www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/initiatives/oceans-fisheries/
  • South East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO) www.seafo.org/
  • Find the “One planet one ocean” option at www.unesco.org, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) website
  • Find World Economic Forum reports like Ending Illegal Fishing: Data Policy and the Port State Measures Agreement at www.weforum.org..
  • WorldFish is an international, nonprofit research organization that harnesses the potential of fisheries and aquaculture to reduce hunger and poverty www.worldfishcenter.org

Find the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf. Further information can be read at www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.htm


The UN Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks sets out principles for the conservation and management of those fish stocks and establishes that such management must be based on the precautionary approach and the best available scientific information. The Agreement elaborates on the fundamental principle, established in the Convention, that States should cooperate to ensure conservation and promote the objective of the optimum utilization of fisheries resources both within and beyond the exclusive economic zone. Read more at www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_fish_stocks.htm.


The African Union declared 2015 to 2025 as the Decade of African Seas and Oceans, and the blue economy is now officially referred to as the new frontier of Africa’s Renaissance.

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South Africa: imports and exports

  • The Agricultural Action Policy Plan (APAP) pointed to the international demand for fish as being a market that the country can tap into (APAP 2015:17).
  • The DAFF-NAMC TradeProbe Issue 68 (March 2017) had the feature “Ocean economy profile of selected products” which looked at the export figures for abalone, oysters and mussels. Find the document at www.namc.co.za.
  • The A Profile Of The South African Aquaculture Market Value Chain on the Directorate Marketing’s webpages at www.daff.gov.za looks at the import and export of fish.

Local business environment

Amongst the downloads at www.fishsa.org/research.html, find “Aquaculture”, “Marine transport and manufacturing”, “Marine Protection Services & Governance” and “Offshore Oil and Gas”, all categories of Operation Phakisa. Various other documents can be read on this website too, like Fishing Industry Overview

  • The fisheries sector contributes roughly 0.1% to the GDP, which is small even by the standards of agriculture. However, it is more important for economic development in the Western Cape where 11 of the 13 proclaimed fishing harbours are situated. These contribute more the 5% to Gross Provincial Domestic Product.
  • It is estimated that the direct employment in the industry constitutes approximately 27 000 jobs (16 000 in the primary sector and 11000 in the secondary and tertiary sectors), while an additional 81 000 people are indirectly (net building, bait preparing, among others) employed in industries that are at least partially dependent on the fishing sector (figures based on industry estimates and the Total Allowable Catch and Total Allowable Effort, calculated as a function of tonnage).
Source: South Africa Yearbook 2018/19

In June 2019, South Africa declared a network of 20 new representative Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The new MPAs increases the spatial protection of South Africa’s ocean environment from the current 0.4% to 5.4% and provide a measure of protection to 90% of marine habitat types within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone. They represent seamounts, submarine canyons, volcanic pinnacles, and a variety of ecosystem types on the shelf, continental margin, and abyss in both the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

Poaching, specifically of rock lobster and abalone, remains a threat.

Small-scale fisheries

Livelihoods and food security in South Africa’s coastal provinces are intimately connected to small-scale fisheries. How does one balance restorative justice for communities discriminated against before 1994, be fair to established fishing companies and keep in mind sustainability levels? The Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa (SSF policy) and the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) and its Amendment Act provide the framework to achieve transformation whilst looking after the country’s marine resources.

The then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is also is implementing Aquaculture Development Zones (ADZs) to assist in creating an enabling environment for a small scale aquaculture model and transformation strategy. Authorisations have been received for the first three, at Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape, and Qolora and Coega in the Eastern Cape (SA News, 2019). Amatikulu in KwaZulu-Natal and Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape are included in the plans.

ABALOBI, “small-scale fisher” in isiXhosa, is the name given to the mobile app suite which aims to enable small-scale fishing communities to be incorporated into information and resource networks, which include fishery monitoring, maritime safety, local development and market opportunities. Restaurants source a diversity of fish directly from small-scale fishers through the ABALOBI MARKETPLACE app, and this significantly increases a fairer price for fish sold by small-scale fishers. See http://abalobi.info.

Find the FAO’s International Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries [SSF Guidelines] at www.fao.org/fishery/ssf/guidelines/en and watch “FAO Policy Series: Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries” on YouTube.

National strategy and government contacts

Operation Phakisa seeks to contribute about R177 billion to the economy by 2030 (compared to R54billion in 2010) and create up to one million jobs by 2030.

The ocean economy project linked to Operation Phakisa focuses on priority potential growth areas such as marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture as well as marine protection services and ocean governance. These are deemed to have a significant GDP growth and job creation potential.

Source: https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/25307/ and https://pmg.org.za/call-for-comment/552/ 


Further reference:


Government role players

  • Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) www.environment.gov.za Find “Oceans and Coasts” under both “Branches” and “Documents” on the website.  Chapter 9 of A report on the state of the environment for South Africa looks at oceans and coasts.
  • Take the “Branches” and “Fisheries Management” options www.daff.gov.za Take the “Branches” and “Fisheries Management” options for information on the Directorate International Relations Fisheries, Directorate Offshore & High Seas Fisheries, the Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) etc. At some point this information will appear on the DEFF website, the new home for Fisheries.

Associations involved

Fish South Africa is an umbrella body that includes among its members companies like Premier Fishing, I&J and Ocean Fishing. See www.fishsa.org. Associations affiliated to Fish SA are:

  • Fresh Tuna Exporters Association ftea [at] telkomsa.net
  • South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) www.sadstia.co.za
  • South African Longline Hake Tel: 021 4182696
  • South African Mid-water Trawling Association RuiV [at] oceana.co.za
  • South African Patagonian Toothfish Association (SAPTA) Tel: 021 685 1672
  • South African Pelagic Fishing Industry Association Tel: 021 425 2727
  • South Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association (SCRLIA) Tel: 021 790 1007
  • South African Squid Management Industrial Association (SASMIA) www.bcre.org.za/sasmia/
  • South African Underwater Fishing Federation www.sauff.co.za
  • South African Tuna Association sata [at] mweb.co.za
  • South East Coast Inshore Fishing Association (SECIFA) craig [at] vikingfishing.co.za
  • West Coast Rock Lobster Association Tel: 021 425 2727

Fuller contact details are available at www.fishsa.org/membership.html


Other associations:

  • Endangered Wildlife Trust www.ewt.org.za Included it the EWT activities is the Marine and Coastal Programme (EWT-M&CP)
  • Masifundise Development Trust http://masifundise.org Promotes the interests of small-scale fisheries and supporting co-operatives
  • South African Association of Seafood Importers and Exporters (SAASIE) Tel: 021 422 3322
  • South African Commercial Linefish Association (SACLA) ladymfishing [at] telkomsa.net
  • SA Tuna Longline Association Tel: 021 510 7924
  • Worldwide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF SA) The oceans and marine life are a major theme for WWF SA. See information under “What we do” at www.wwf.org.za. Read about WWF-SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) at wwfsassi.co.za.

Training and research

  • AgriSETA Tel: 012 301 5600 www.agriseta.co.za Because of the emphasis being given to aquaculture by the government, fisheries and aquaculture are included as a priority in AgriSETA training. Find information on the National Certificate: Fisheries Observation: Inshore and Certificate: Fisheries Observation: Deep Sea on the website.
  • Bayworld Centre for Research & Education (BCRE) www.bcre.org.za
  • Durban University of Technology (DUT) Department Maritime Studies Tel: 031 373 2694 www.dut.ac.za/faculty/applied_sciences/maritime_studies/
  • Nelson Mandela University (NMU) Institute for Coastal and Marine Research Tel: 041 504 2852 http://cmr.mandela.ac.za/
  • Rhodes University Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science (DIFS) Tel: 046 603 8415/6 difs [at] ru.ac.za www.ru.ac.za/ichthyology
  • The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) incorporates uShaka Sea World, uShaka Sea World Education and the Oceanographic Research Institute. Contact them at 031 328 8222, or visit www.saambr.org.za.
  • The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) Tel: 046 603 5800 www.saiab.ac.za SAIAB is a Research Facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF)
  • The South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) is a consultative, communicative and advisory body that represents institutions and scientists from different provinces and disciplines. Visit http://sancor.nrf.ac.za.
  • The South African Research Chair in the Law of the Sea and Development in Africa is hosted by the Nelson Mandela University, funded by the Department of Science and Technology and managed by the National Research Foundation. See http://lawofthesea.mandela.ac.za.
  • University of the Western Cape (UWC) International Ocean Institute Southern Africa Tel: 021 959 2301 www.uwc.ac.za and www.ioinst.org IOI-SA develops and offers capacity building and research programs that improve the sustainable livelihoods of poor and under­privileged people living in coastal areas. It falls under the Biodiversity and Conservation Biology department.

Companies involved

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.


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See also the earlier “International business environment” heading.

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