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 home of a vast array of marine life – from whales to phytoplankton. Over 3 billion people depend on fish as part of their diet, and one in ten people rely on the fishing industry to make a living (FAO, 2017).

This chapter is in the “Issues” section for a simple reason: our oceans are in crisis. They have been mismanaged, or at best, not been managed at all, having been overfished and altered by pollution.

The 14th of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiated by UN member states is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” (UN, 2015).

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

  • The setting of quotas on the amount of fish caught. Fish stocks are being taken from the oceans at unsustainable levels (Kituyi & Thomson, 2018).
  • Adopting measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. It reduces fish stocks, lowers local catches and harms the marine environment.
  • Establishing networks of marine parks/ocean sanctuaries in which/near which activities like building and mining are prohibited.

Find updates on progress (or lack thereof) in the articles under the “Websites and publications” heading.

Take a minute to think about the oceans

International business environment

About two-thirds of the world’s oceans lie beyond national jurisdiction. As of 2022, despite two decades of negotiations there is still no treaty protecting these international waters. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea lays out the rules of how far out a nation’s zone of influence extends beyond its shores.

  • 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/
  • Greenpeace International www.greenpeace.org
  • 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.

Some articles …


South Africa: imports and exports

The Fish SA brochure “Fishing for a sustainable and equitable future” at http://fishsa.org provides overviews of this industry’s exports.

Local business environment

The Fish SA brochure “Fishing for a sustainable and equitable future” at http://fishsa.org provides overviews of this industry. It looks at South Africa’s export markets, and then zooms in on squid, hake, Cape horse mackerel, lobster and other species through the lens of the different affiliate associations of Fish SA.

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 (DALRRD) 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.

Greenpeace Africa. 2019. Gutted - the fight of Kalk Bay fishers.

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.


Further reference:


Government role players

  • Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) www.environment.gov.za Find “Oceans and Coasts” under “Branches” on the website.

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:

  • South African Squid Management Industrial Association (SASMIA) https://sapfia.org.za
  • South Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association (SCRLIA)
  • West Coast Rock Lobster Association (WCRLA)
  • South East Coast Inshore Fishing Association (SECIFA)
  • South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) www.sadstia.co.za
  • South African Hake Longline Association (SAHLLA) www.sahlla.co.za
  • South African Midwater Trawl Association (SAMTA)
  • South African Tuna Association (SATA)
  • Large Pelagic Small Medium & Micro Enterprises Association (LPSMME)
  • South Africa Tuna Longline Association (SATLA)
  • South African Patagonian Toothfish Industry Association (SAPTIA)


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 Fisheries Development Fund https://fisheriesfund.co.za/en/
  • 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 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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