There is more in a can than just fish
According to Ahrens, the canning market is fantastic and growing daily in Namibia and the demand for canned fish in the SADC region is rising by the day. He said they have had enquires from Botswana, Angola as well as from Zimbabwe and Mauritius.
“One should remember that we are canning protein and to ship frozen stuff in and out of Africa has always been a hassle. With canned goods, it is easier and it has a good shelf life, it is easy to transport,” he said.
“The women in the rural areas can stock food for their families for a while, [they] do not have to worry about perishable goods. So to be in the canning industry, can protein industry as I call it, is an absolute fantastic medium to give Africa food or to supply Africa with food,” he added. The company is currently supplying canned fish into Angola, Botswana and South Africa. The Ocean Fresh brand’s demand into South Africa alone exceeds 2,5 million trays per year. Ahrens said the company is not in a position to service the huge demand for canned fish to country’s such as South Africa at the moment because there has been a well-known decline in pilchard biomass.
“We are busy with a lot of new products, we do understand that pilchard will bake the cake but it will not secure the icing. We need to create new products. For this year, we have actually started to can Ekunde Beans,a project started two and a half years ago. Ekunde Beans is a traditional Namibian bean that is grown mostly by rural woman in the northern and eastern parts of Namibia and we buy it from them, can it and sell it back to Namibians,” he stated.
He confirmed the business is doing well saying, “we do not have one tin left to sell for this year. Actually it came very well in hand with the drought situation because of the high-value of protein and we could offer to the government to sell and then re-distribute it to the hungry people as [part of] drought relief,”
Ahrens also said the company will make all its excess stock available to the government this year as part of drought relief as a way of thanking the government for bailing them out by giving them a juvenile horse mackerel quota which helped the company survive during the time when the pilchard biomass was very low. “We will not create new markets as we did the previous year. We are catching Namibian quotas, we feel strongly about helping now because we were helped in the past when the government gave us this in-shore quota to catch, to bail us out when we had no fish. It’s just the right thing to do. So this time all excess stock or unallocated stock that we would have used to create new markets, we are allocating back for drought relief,” he said adding that the fishing industry in general has been warned about low biomass especially the pilchard biomass because it is their livelihood.
“We feel there is a slight recovery but that stays our number one worry. That is the money spinner. If we do not have pilchards, we can all close our doors, so we are very sensitive towards the government and the way they look after the biomass, and we are really happy with the way they look after the biomass and we hope it will recover to its fullest potential but that is challenge number one,” he emphasised.
He confirmed that fishing is a very tough industry, “we had hundreds and thousands of tons of quota and the fish disappeared. We are all starting up again and we are realising what is the full potential of not having as much fish. We must be much better and more clever in what we do and we are realising the little bit of value that we having, but we will survive, we have the quota and the biomass. I think that’s good news for everybody especially the sea workers.”
The United Fishing manager commended the scientists in conjunction with NETMEC and the Ministry of Fisheries for taking care of biomass conservation and for issuing Total Allowable Catches (TACs) at a level that ensures the survival of the stock.
United Fishing Enterprises employs a total of 122 permanent employees all-year round and 680 seasonal employees over a three to four months period. The company prides itself as one of the few local fishing company which employes a full Namibian crew.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for us to plough back. Our biggest dream is to have the period of four to three months extended to six or seven months, that would be fantastic. In our planning to create new products, we want to combine it with the season so that we can employ the people much longer,” said Ahrens.