More Fishermen facing retrenchments

Niël Terblanché

The moratorium that has been placed on the harvesting of pilchards in Namibian waters has again left hundreds of fishermen from Walvis Bay with the bleak prospect of unemployment.

The Managing Director of Etosha Fishing, Volker Paulsmeier, in a short statement, acknowledged that the company has given the Labour Commissioner a formal notice about the company’s intent to lay off 30 permanent and 420 seasonal workers.

“The company has given notice to the Labour Commissioner on the 31st March 2023 of its intention to terminate contracts due to operational requirements as is required by the Labour Act (Act 11 of 2007),” Paulsmeier said.

He added that at the moment, Etosha Fishing reserves the right to officially respond on this matter until such a time that due process has been followed.

Paulsmeier did not say whether the plan to shut down operations at the company will be of a permanent nature.

Etosha Fishing, currently the only fisheries company that has a pilchard processing and canning plant, has been struggling to fulfil its mandate since the Ministry of Fisheries placed a moratorium on the harvesting of this specific pelagic fish species in 2018.

In the meantime, the company has been importing frozen pilchards from abroad to keep its cannery and more than 400 of it’s seasonal workers going.

Matti Amukwa, the Chairman of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations, in response to the announcement that Etosha Fishing is about to lay off all of its workers, said that it is a very unfortunate situation

“The pilchard resource has not recovered as expected and the moratorium on pilchard is still in place which made it extremely difficult for the company to operate. For Etosha Fishing it is even more difficult because they can not get to the core business which is the processing and canning of pilchard,” he said.

According to Amukwa, the company attempted to keep the processing and canning plant going by importing frozen fish from abroad but he was unsure if that part of the operation is still ongoing.

He said however unfortunate the situation might be for the affected workers, plans to shut down operations, is a logical step for the company to minimise further financial damage.

The moratorium was introduced when the stock of this specific fish species fell sharply.

At the time, former Fisheries Minister Bernard Esau stated that the scientists suspected that sea temperatures have changed, forcing the pilchard resource to move to colder waters elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Derek Klazen, the current Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources is on record stating that the moratorium on the harvesting of pilchards from Namibian waters will remain in place until such time that the species has recovered to a sustainable level.

Paulus Hango, the President of the National Service and Allied Workers Union (Nasawu) described the planned retrenchments of more than 400 workers at Etosha Fishing will negatively affect the livelihood of many families who reside in Walvis Bay.

He was of the opinion that the company should again import frozen fish from abroad to keep the processing plant going and to keep the workers in its employ.

Hango stated that the workers and their families are not the only people that will be affected by the planned cessation of operations. He pointed out that the local economy in Walvis Bay and even Swakopmund will also feel the negative impact.

“This is not the best time to shut down operations at a fishing company. With the current drought situation and many people facing food insecurity the plans might have tragic consequences for a broad swath of Namibians that rely on fish as a food source,” Hango said.

He also stated that the fisheries Minister, as an alternative, should allocate some horse mackerel from the government objectives quota to keep Etosha Fishing from shutting down operations.

“The government has been doing the same for the workers that left the employ of Seaflower Pelagic Processing a few years ago. Those workers have been kept in employment for almost two years in this way,” Hango said.

Hango stated that Nasawu will not allow Etosha Fishing to shut down operations and added that the union aims to meet with the fisheries and finance ministries to see what can be done to keep the workers from losing their jobs.

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