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Spains Appetite Threatens Namibias Hake

SPAIN and NAMBIA - With Spanish companies putting more pressure on Nambia to allow them to catch more, scientists are warning that already vulnerable stocks will decline further.

Spanish companies are catching an estimated seven of every 10 Namibian hakes in what has been considered one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, according to a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Despite warnings that the stock could drop further from an already alarmingly low level, the government of Namibia this year increased the quotas for hake catches.

Meanwhile, some players ignore the rules entirely and don’t even bother to hide it. José Luis Bastos, a Spanish fishing magnate said: “We are over-catching hake, and I don’t have a problem telling the [fisheries] minister this.”

Mr Bastos exceeds quotas without fear of harsh punishment because he is among a dozen well-connected Spanish ship owners who control almost all trade in hake, the southwest African nation’s most lucrative fish. Hake, with its mild taste and tight white flesh, is Spain’s most popular seafood.

As in the rest of the world, where 85 per cent of stocks are fished to — or over — their limits, Namibian hake has been caught far beyond sustainable levels. Estimates are that there are only 13 per cent as many hake as swam here in the 1960s. And since the decades-old nation exports most of its affordable fish protein, Namibia is increasingly food poor. A third of its two million people live on less than $1 a day and unemployment is estimated at more than 50 per cent.

There are a few groups that escape this desperate situation. Among them: The ruling post-revolutionary establishment and fishing magnates like José Luis Bastos.

Mr Bastos explains why he’s not concerned about breaking the law saying: “If they are going to fine me, they must fine me,” he told reporters from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “I’ll see what I can do about the possible penalties.”

By adopting Namibian citizenship to qualify for fishing rights, Mr Bastos is confident he can avoid penalties.

About 10 other Namibian-Spanish joint ventures operate in Walvis Bay. The “Wall Street” of fish is what the locals call the long rows of high-tech processing factories with private docks for landing fish in what is among the world’s best-organised whitefish market facilities. The nearby airport was recently upgraded at a cost of €32 million ($45 million) — half of it paid for with loans from the Spanish government — in an attempt to handle cargo jets so fresh hake can be flown to Europe.

“The Spanish are in the veins of Namibia,” said fisheries union leader, Daniel Imbili. He said Namibia, with scant market knowledge or resources, has little choice but to go along with the relationship.

Spain also has control over the next largest fishing port Lüderitz, a 12-hour drive south of Walvis Bay. In 1990, at Nujoma’s invitation, the Spanish company Pescanova set up shop there under the name of NovaNam.

Today the company is the world’s largest supplier of hake, controlling at least 20 percent of the total quota in Namibia in recent years. It is the third largest seafood company in Europe with 2010 sales of €1.6 billion ($2.2 billion).

Anonymous Namibian interests own 49 per cent of NovaNam. The rest is controlled by Pescanova, apart from a two percent share in the company held by its workers.

“The fishing industry is dominated by Spain. That’s not a secret,” said Cornelius Bundje, deputy director of the Namibia Maritime and Fisheries Institute in Walvis Bay.

“The Spanish are making a profit, and they take it to Spain and other countries,” Mr Bundje concluded.

the Fish Site Editor

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