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South Africa: Fishy Deal Puts Smile on Cape Business

SOUTH AFRICA - The South African fishing industry has undergone a major restructuring over the past few years, with traumatic results for those subsistence and commercial fishers who were unable to secure quotas allowing them to harvest SA's dwindling fish stocks.

Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), a division of the department of environmental affairs and tourism which is the legal custodian of SA's sea life, began the painful restructuring process in 1998 in a bid to make the industry more equitable and increase black participation in the commercial fishing sector.

Existing medium and long-term quotas were either reduced or reallocated to create new opportunities for black economic empowerment companies and previously disadvantaged individuals to enter the lucrative export market.

Some established fishing companies and overlooked traditional fishing communities have cried foul, pointing out that employees who lose their jobs -- and subsistence fishermen who no longer have livelihoods -- have become the new disadvantaged. However, beneficiaries of the new regime are thriving.

Among these is Plettenberg Bay Fishing, which puts hake on Spanish tables every week.

It doesn't go out to sea to fish, but buys the hake from Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay and Cape Town fishers. "Fishing is not our core business. There are people better skilled to do that. But if along the way we get the opportunity to acquire a fishing operation, we will glady do so, as it will help us secure more supplies," says MD Paul Webb.

Webb, together with logistics manager Emile Loggenberg and accountant Marie Jansen, have not always been managers of the company. They all started as factory workers in the mid 1990s, when the operation was owned and controlled by a Spanish group.

When it became clear in 2000 that MCM was intent on ensuring that opportunities were created for previously marginalised South Africans, the Spanish owners of the company entered into lengthy negotiations with their workers. The outcome was that they agreed to hand over control to Webb and his team.

However, since they did not have the millions of rands required for a conventional acquisition, it was agreed that Plettenberg Bay Fishing would contract to source and supply fish to the Spanish market.