by Taryn Springhall

Aquaculture

The blue revolution

Development in aquaculture in SA is creating more jobs
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South Africa is no exception with many of its commercially viable sea life and marine creature stock exploited or in rapid decline due to pollution and unsustainable practices. 

In spite of a dire situation reported in local and international wild sea resources, the demand for seafood products is on the rise across the globe and is the fundamental reason for the rapid adoption of aquaculture. Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food production sectors in the world and its success weighs in at an advantage against natural fisheries that are limited by how many fish can be caught during certain seasons. Aquaculture however can provide large and consistent quantities of fish and seafood year round. 

South Africa is promptly taking the bait to establishing aquaculture farms around the country even though at this stage, the local sector is relatively small fry in comparison to other big fish on the continent such as Egypt and Nigeria. SA only contributes about 1% of Africa’s total aquaculture production but with the sector forming a key part of the government’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and New Growth Path it has the support it requires to grow into a burgeoning industry. 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) State of World Aquaculture and Fisheries 2012 report said that despite falling fish catches since 2009, South Africa was still one of three African countries to retain its position as a major marine producer despite the industry only contributing 0.029% towards the GDP in 2010. The potential for growth though has secured an R800-million incentive programme launched by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the launch of the Aquaculture Development and Enhancement Programme both aimed at promoting marine and freshwater fishing projects. 

Aquaculture holds a lot of promise for the country in general. Not only will it serve to supplement and/or replace the supply of wild stock with cultured fish products but also offer enormous benefits in the form of job creation, food security, foreign currency and skills development. The government hopes to help aquaculture realise its potential by pushing incentives in research and development, technology and education and training programmes with particular focus on freshwater aquaculture because of its growth potential and the fact that SA does not have particularly ideal environment for marine aquaculture because coastal areas are too exposed, lacking the sheltered bays necessary to rear fish in cages or pens.

In 2010, Western Cape led the aquaculture sector with 20 farms (with Saldanha Bay contributing approximately 39,9% of the national marine aquaculture tonnage), followed by Eastern Cape with nine farms, three in Northern Cape and one in Kwazulu-Natal with production largely concentrated on rainbow trout, abalone, mussels, oysters and, increasingly, kabeljou (known internationally as “dusky kob”). One of the distinct competitive advantages that aquaculture has over wild-caught fish and seafood is sustainability, in line with global trends to stay away from produce caught by environmentally harmful fishing practices. 

Sustainability in the face of water scarcity and environmental impact is another focal point for the industry. While aquaculture can in some instances improve water quality by adding nutrients, it is still necessary to monitor its effects in a controlled and regulated manner to minimise stress on the environment, and mitigate possible negative consequences such as the loss or alteration of natural habitats, the introduction of exotic species, threats to species biodiversity, changes in water quality, as well as the introduction and spread of diseases. 

South Africa’s aquaculture sector realised gaps in adequate legislature and in 2009/10 the Department of Environmental Affairs together with role players across the board developed and implemented an environmental impact guideline for aquaculture to create an environmentally responsible and more sustainable aquaculture industry. 

While sustainability is a huge focus of the industry, job creation is another major incentive to develop aquaculture in the country. Abalone farming is one example of how jobs can be created with aquaculture where they were being lost in commercial abalone fisheries. Despite generating almost R100-million a year in the early 2000’s, the industry grinded to a halt in 2008 because of rampant illegal harvesting and rapid decline in stocks.

But it is not just man who must eat but the fish too. Fish feed technology is one of the least developed sectors of aquaculture, particularly in Africa and other developing countries of the world, but is one of the major inputs in aquaculture production. Locally produced feed has become a key component for realising the true potential of local aquaculture and efforts to increase yield and quality are underway.

In general, South Africa’s aquaculture industry is an active example of the country casting its nets wider to harness local produce that can become viable, competitive commodities in a global market. And by adopting innovative, progressive technologies and practices the aquaculture industry is sure to captivate the continent and world demands hook, line and sinker.

 

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