Industry and products
Legislation and policies
Resource management
Subsistence fisheries
Recreational fishing

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is tasked with managing the development and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources; maximising the economic potential of the fisheries sector; and protecting the integrity and quality of the country's marine and coastal ecosystems.

The South African coastline covers more than 3 000 km, linking the east and west coasts of Africa.

These shores are particularly rich in biodiversity, with some 10 000 species of marine plants and animals recorded.

The productive waters of the west coast support a variety of commercially exploited marine life, including hake, anchovy, sardine, horse mackerel, tuna, snoek, rock lobster and abalone.

On the east coast, squid, linefish and a wide range of intertidal resources provide an important source of food and livelihood for coastal communities.

Marine life that is not harvested, such as whales, dolphins and seabirds, is increasingly recognised as a valuable resource for nature-based tourism.

The main challenge in fisheries is to create a balance between maximising the social and economic potential of the fisheries industry; protecting the integrity and quality of the country's marine and coastal ecosystems and addressing transformation in the sector.

In line with international trends, the department recognises fisheries as an economic activity rather than a purely environmental or biodiversity matter.

Government has expanded the mandate for fisheries management by adding fresh water and inland fisheries, as well as aquaculture, to the department's existing responsibilities.

The department will gradually establish offices of the fisheries branch in coastal, as well as inland provinces.

These are economic decisions, which contribute to employment creation and poverty alleviation.

Industry and products

South Africa is among the global fishing nations which have identified the challenges within their fishing industry. With 22 commercial fisheries sectors and new fisheries being explored and experimented with, South Africa has two fisheries sector components.

Wild capture fisheries include three distinct components, commercial, recreational and subsistence  fisheries,  each  of  which  requires specific research and management interventions. The   aquaculture (fish farming) sector is considered underdeveloped and as a result, has been prioritised, due to declining wild stocks.

Legislation and policies

  • The Small-Scale Fisheries Policy [PDF] seeks to address imbalances of the past and ensure that small-scale fishers are accommodated and properly managed. For the first time, fishing rights will be allocated on a group, rather than an individual basis. The policy further aims to support investment in community entities to take joint responsibility for sustainably managing the fisheries resources and to address the depletion of critical fisheries stocks.
  • The department has entered into a service-level agreement with the South African Navy to manage its fleet of four patrol vessels and three research vessels for a year, while the department considers its various options regarding the long-term management of these vessels.

Resource management

The department increased its capacity to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and launched an anti-poaching project in the Western Cape, funded through the Working for Fisheries Programme.

This enabled the department to deploy 60 military veterans in the Overberg region to serve as the “eyes and ears” of government.

The fishing sector comprises large-scale operators and small-scale and recreational fishermen and women.

The 2012 Status of the South African Marine Resources Report confirms that the continued general decline in local wild fish resources shows no exception to global deteriorating trends.

According to a recent UN report, more than two thirds of the world's fisheries have been overfished or are fully harvested, and more than one third is in a state of decline, due to the loss of fish habitats, soaring pollution levels in oceans and rivers and climate change.

According to the report, abalone stocks remain in a depleted to heavily depleted state as the resources continue to decline, due to increasing levels of poaching and ecological factors.

Meanwhile, line fish resources range from heavily depleted to optimal states, depending on species.

There are, however, signs of a positive response by some species to the emergency management measures implemented in 2000.

Given the low population sizes of many line fish species, however, present management measures are expected to assist in allowing stock to increase.

Under the operational management procedure, the West Coast rock lobster is showing signs of recovery.

Deep-water hake remains depleted, but its status is improving, whereas shallow-water hake is considered optimal to abundant.

The implementation of precautionary management approaches to hake fisheries in recent years has resulted in a faster than anticipated recovery of deep-water hake.

Harders, which are the main target of the beach-seine and gillnet fisheries, remain in a depleted to heavily depleted state.

Environmental anomalies and illegal netting have affected the recruitment of the species in recent years.

The abundance of Agulhas sole has remained relatively constant over the past 15 years, while Cape horse  mackerel  has  increased in abundance in recent years, due to good recruitment, and the stock is considered to be in an optimal state.

The status of Patagonian tooth fish remains unknown, although some data suggest that this resource is depleted and may be declining.

The anchovy stock is at the lowest level observed in the past 15 years, but sardine and round herring stocks continue to increase.

In South Africa, the fisheries sector is worth around R6 billion per annum and directly employs some 27 000 people in the commercial sector. Thousands more and their families depend on these resources for food and the basic needs of life.

The total allowable catch for the West Coast Rock Lobster 2013/14  fishing  season  has been set at 2 167,06 tons. The total allowable catch apportioned to the commercial offshore sub sector is set at 1 356,56 tons and for the commercial near-shore subsector, it is set at 451 tons.

The  total  allowable  catch  apportioned  for the subsistence (small-scale/interim relief) subsector, is set at 276 tons (138 kg per fisher). The apportionment for the recreational fishing subsector remains unchanged at four west coast rock lobsters per person per day for the duration of the fishing season.

The number of fishing days for the 2013/14 recreational fishing season has been determined at 26 days.

The 2013/14 west coast rock lobster recrea- tional fishing season opened on 15 November 2013 and closed on 21 April 2014.

The size restriction remains at 80 mm carapace length and recreational fishing permits will only be issued to persons above the age of 12 years. Any west coast rock lobster caught, collected or transported shall be kept in a whole state.

West coast rock lobster caught with a recreational permit may not be sold by any person.

Recreational west coast rock lobster permits are obtainable at post offices, at a cost of R92 per permit and are valid for the entire recreational fishing season.

The department's decision to pursue the recovery target has been welcomed by WWF and carries the unanimous support of all the WCRL user sectors.

In November 2013, over 500 delegates from over 50 countries convened in Cape Town for the 23rd regular meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

ICCAT is a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) that is responsible for the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

The meeting added weight to South Africa's negotiating position on the adequate allocations of key species, as tuna fisheries in the Atlantic offer opportunities for development and job creation in the country, which have not been fully exploited.

South Africa's strategic intent with participating in and hosting the annual ICCAT meeting was to ensure long-term fishing access in the Atlantic Ocean for South African fishing companies in the tuna pole fisheries and the developing large pelagic fisheries.

Access to the Atlantic Ocean  is  essential for encouraging future investment in the tuna/ swordfish fisheries, to create the enabling environment for these fisheries to develop.

ICCAT will benefit South Africa with management activities, including collating fisheries data, guiding research, conducting stock assessments, establishing management and conservation measures and issuing country quotas.


Aquaculture incorporates the breeding, trading or rearing of aquatic organisms in a controlled or selected aquatic environment for recreational, commercial or subsistence purposes.

Fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of an estimated 540 million people. Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms and is divided into fresh-water culture and mariculture.

Species farmed in the latter include dusky kob, abalone, Pacific oysters, Mediterranean mussels and black mussels, among others. According to the National Aquaculture Policy Framework, the sector is relatively small and government wants to create a climate in which it can grow.

Special attention will be paid to freshwater aquaculture, as it has shown growth potential.

Government will also push investments in research, development technology, transfer and extension, as well as education and training programmes in aquaculture.

In March 2013, government launched the R800-million Aquaculture Development Enhancement Programme, which offers cost-sharing grants of R40-million per company.The aim is to create more jobs in the sector. The grants will be made available for machinery, equipment, infrastructure, commercial vehicles and work boats, in pursuit of boosting competition in the industry.

Abalone fishing is severely restricted in South African waters, but poaching is rife, as it is a lucrative trade.

A big cause for the decline in abalone numbers is rampant poaching over the years. The species is highly coveted and fetches high prices, especially in the Far East.

In May 2013, Cabinet approved the National Aquaculture Policy Framework (NAPF). The policy provides a unified framework for the establishment and development of an industry that contributes towards sustainable job creation and increased investment.

The NAPF was developed against the backdrop of a global aquaculture sector that has seen an increased demand for fishery products. In South Africa, marine and freshwater aquaculture  presents  a  good  opportunity  to diversify fish production to satisfy local demand; contribute to food security, job creation, economic development and rural development; and improve export opportunities.

South Africa hosted the Third Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in the fourth quarter of 2013, led by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Subsistence fisheries

Participation in subsistence fisheries is broad – coastal communities have traditionally made use of intertidal and shallow-water resources as a source of food. Only surplus not consumed by fishers is sold locally.

Some 147 fishing communities, 28 338 fisher households and about 29 233 people are considered true subsistence fishers.

A draft policy for the recognition, allocation and management of small-scale fishing rights is being developed for small-scale fishing.

Recreational fishing

With South Africa's extensive coastline spanning two oceans and its numerous dams, lakes, rivers and streams, South Africa is a recreational fisher's paradise. However, recreational fishing may only be undertaken with a valid permit, and recreational fishing is limited to certain times of the fishing season.

To reduce user conflicts between commercial and recreational fishing, and to, protect stocks during breeding periods, certain areas have been declared closed areas.

Recreational fishers are also subject to bag limits of fish on a per-day basis.

The department's fisheries division has published a recreational fishing pamphlet to guide recreational fishers regarding the number and species of fish they may catch and where they may catch fish. Annual recreational fishing licences in all industries total about 300 000, with income generated from these licences amounting to R18 million. The actual annual catch is about 17 000 t of high-value species.

Source: SA Yearbook 2013/14