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Frozen pilchard imports sustain jobs

The reefer vessel, Novaya Zemlya, arrived in Walvis Bay harbour on Monday, 26 January to offload an estimated 2000 metric tonnes of whole round frozen pilchards to be processed and canned at the Etosha Fishing processing plant in Walvis Bay under the iconic Lucky Star brand. The finished product will be exported to South Africa.

Etosha Fishing has had to resort to importing fish caught in Moroccan waters. The rationale, Etosha says, is the protection of local jobs. By employing such a drastic move, Etosha Fishing is emulating an industrial model pioneered by Dundee Precious Metals in Tsumeb, where imported ore is processed to ensure the viability of the plant.  By importing frozen pilchard from Morocco, Etosha Fishing has enhanced the productivity of its cannery, it has secured employment, and it leverages its powerful and valuable canned fish label, Lucky Star.

Said Etosha Fishing Managing Director Pieter Greeff: “We have been importing frozen pilchards for processing on local soil since 2010, which has tremendously contributed to the creation of additional local jobs”. According to Greeff, the company has imported more than 20,000 metric tonnes of frozen pilchard since 2010, amounting to more than 40 weeks of additional employment for seasonal workers during the 2010 to 2014 period. “With our own pilchard resources under threat, Etosha Fishing has taken an alternative approach to ensuring the sustainability of Etosha Fishing and the sustainable development of our industry,” said Greeff.  He explained that their Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of pilchard and horse mackerel only provides employment for about 4 months, from about April to July. “We can not afford to have our processing plant sit idle for the remainder of the year. Instead we are importing great volumes of whole round pilchards and cutlets to add value to in our country, which translates to employment for nearly the entire year,” he said. Greeff noted that during their period of employment, seasonal workers are not only paid a basic wage but also enjoy benefits such as overtime, pension fund, housing allowance and a production bonus. He said that approximately N$4 million per 1000 tonnes of frozen pilchard enters the local Walvis Bay economy through wages and services procured in the town. “This means that roughly N$8 million will be spent in Walvis Bay during March as a direct result of this import,” he explained. This translates to a total of N$60 million that will be injected into the harbour town’s economy during the course of 2015 based on the total of 15,000 metric tonnes planned for importation this year. Etosha upholds the most stringent checks according to Greeff and he assured that Etosha goes to great lengths to ensure the freshness of the pilchard imports. Said Greeff, “All frozen pilchard exporters and vessels are listed as approved establishments by the European Union (EU), and are accompanied by a Health Certificate endorsing compliance with EU standards. Because Etosha Fishing is itself an EU-listed establishment, this is a requirement from our side.” According to him, the imported pilchards are transported in freezer containers or in palletised boxing from the manufacturing facilities in Morocco by sea to Walvis Bay on a freezer vessel ensuring that the cold chain is maintained. The cargo is then either off-loaded directly into cold storage at Commercial Cold Storage or the fish is worked directly from containers to keep it as fresh as possible, before thawing it in the cannery for further processing. He added, “Upon receipt of the frozen product we do our own in-house quality checks. These include sensory examination of freshness indicators for example firmness, flesh texture, and odour to mention but a few. Fish that do not pass our quality standard can not be processed into canned product, and is diverted to fishmeal.”

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