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Buoyed with steadily rising fishing quotas, Namibia aims to maximize rich hake resource.

After Alaska pollock and cod, hake is the most important resource for the frozen fish processing industry. It is mainly caught in waters off South America. Recently, however, there has been a lot of talk about a newcomer from the other side of the Atlantic. Namibia is on the way to becoming a reliable supplier of large quantities of hake.

Following independence four years ago, the southwest African country introduced radical stock protection measures to counter the effects of foreign fishing fleets which had decimated stocks. The immediate success of these measures surprised even the Namibians themselves. Year by year the fishing quotas surged, going from 60,000 metric tons in 1990 to 150,000 this year. "We expect to reach 350,000 by the end of the decade," said Helmut Angula, fisheries minister. That would be nearly as much as Argentina lands, and well above the catches of all other nations.

The plankton-rich Benguela Current that brings Antarctic water to the Namibian coast is certainly one of the reasons for the rapid recuperation of stocks. Another is the inspectors who always accompany both large and small fishing vessels, monitoring catches which are registered by the kilogram upon landing.

In earlier years, factory vessels with on-board freezing facilities harvested nearly all the allowable catch. However, with job creation in mind, the government is demanding that in the coming years an increasing share of hake tonnage must be taken fresh to ports at Walvis Bay and Luderitz for processing. "Most of the fishing grounds are close to the coast, which makes it possible to land the fish iced in boxes without quality losses," explained Angula.

This assessment is shared by Michael Stievenart of Tunacor, one of the big landers and processors: "We used to get less money for fish processed on shore than for sea-frozen product. Today international traders know that the quality of both is the same, and since the end of 1993 prices have moved to an equal level."

Product reaches the market in a number of forms: headed and gutted, as fillets with skin or skinless, individually frozen or in shatterpacks. "Demand for deep-skinned fillets has rapidly increased since machines were invented to produce them," noted Jorg Feltz, managing director of Consortium Fisheries, which runs Food Con, the country's most sophisticated processing plant. He believes the trend stems from rising interest in calorie counting among consumers in Europe and America, but that practicality may also play a role: the fillets keep longer in the deep-freezer after removal of the outer fatty layer.

Consortium Fisheries exports nearly all of its production to Denmark, headquarters country of the Foodmark Group, which has a 28% share in the otherwise Namibian-owned concern. The nation's other companies export most of their products too, for with a population of only 1.4 million people and annual per capita consumption of fish below five kilograms, there is no real domestic market to speak of.

Luderitz-based Pescanova, a 100% subsidiary of the Spanish group of the same name, is the country's largest single hake company, holding over 15% (a good 25,000 tons) of the quota. Spaniards also have a 30% share of Tunacor, a member of the Cadilu Group. Another big company in Walvis Bay, Kuicab, is a 100% subsidiary of the South African seafood giant Irvin & Johnson. And Icelanders have a 49% stake in Luderitz-based Seaflower.

Looking for Partners

In the face of such a high degree of international participation in the major companies, it is obvious that experience in the global market is not lacking. The trend towards the further development of export and new customer acquisition is better described as small under the current quota conditions. Many producers suggest that they could actually sell a lot more than they have.

Things look different from the vantage point of small and middle-sized companies, which are usually fully under Namibian control. Such concerns are eager to find new joint venture partners and make business contacts. They will be looking for them June 10-13 at Fisch '94 International in Bremen, Germany, where Namibia will have a stand. It is supported by Protrade, the trade promotion department financed under the German government's foreign aid budget.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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