Chokka industry high and dry

STANDING IDLE: No chokka boats will leave the Port Elizabeth harbour to fish for three months. Picture: MIKE HOLMES
STANDING IDLE: No chokka boats will leave the Port Elizabeth harbour to fish for three months. Picture: MIKE HOLMES

THE chokka industry will go into a voluntary closed season from next week, leaving more than 2000 Eastern Cape already battling fishermen without a source of income.

The squid supply has dwindled in recent years, partly due to over fishing and climate change.

On Friday, the SA Squid Management Industrial Association (Sasmia) had a final meeting with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries which accepted the proposal to have a closed squid season for April, May and June, Sasmia chairman Dino Moodaley said.

The only other option given to the industry by the department was to reduce the number of fishing permits, which would mean that almost half the jobs in the industry would be lost, he said.

A total of 2422 fishermen have squid fishing rights in South Africa and the season traditionally only closes for five weeks in October and November.

The department still needs to officially change the permit conditions, to make the proposed closed season official, but Moodaley said most industry players would adhere to the closed squid season from next week.

“The catches we have had over the past two years have gone down considerably and we are hoping the closed season will have a positive effect on the resource in the long term.

“In a normal season we would fish between 7000 and 8000 tons of squid a year, but over the last two years it has been below 5000 tons,” Moodaley said.

Sasmia met all the roleplayers in Port Elizabeth before coming to the suggested dates for the closed season.

“To not have an income for three months will be very hard for all of us,” Moodaley, who is also the sales director of Talhado Calamari in the Port Elizabeth harbour, said.

“Those of us with factories will have to still keep the infrastructure running and it will have a major impact on our cash flow.”

Some of the permanent Talhado employees would be assisted to get access to their provident funds and UIF payments. Talhado, which owns 16 chokka boats and has 11 more boats supplying the factory, also operates a commercial cold storage facility.

“Some factories will concentrate on other fish but the owners of smaller boats will definitely feel this closure, since they may still be owing for loans on their vessels. Many fishermen with tuna pole licences will use this time to fish for snoek and tuna in the Western Cape,” Moodaley said.

About 99% of the squid from the Eastern Cape was exported to Europe and other markets because of its high quality and price and therefore a shortage of squid in local restaurants and shops would not be experienced, he said.

Gerhard Dreyer, of Raka Marine, said the closed season would have a massive knock-on effect on the entire squid industry, including the upkeep and related maintenance around the squid boats.

Dreyer said he would try give financial relief to temporary employees who had worked on his eight boats this year.

“The situation will be desperate, but if we want to protect our resource we need to give it a chance to renew itself,” he said.

Squid has a life span of between a year to 18 months.

Another chokka boat owner, Gerrie Olivier, said for the industry’s sake he hoped the resource would be restored in the closed season, and that it was better to take such a precautionary measure “before it is too late”.

Olivier employs about 40 fishermen from St Francis Bay, Jeffreys Bay and in Port Elizabeth, and had already started giving out food parcels to these workers to help them in supporting their families.

“We are hoping that the department will be able to assist the workers. There will be more than 2000 fishermen going hungry.

“It is going to be a tough time for all of us but we do not have a choice,” Olivier said.

The United Democratic Food and Combined Workers’ Union general secretary Hamilton Mlunguzi said chokka fishermen, who could not afford to go without an income, would suffer severe hardship in the next three months. – Cindy Preller


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