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Benchmarking South Africa’s fisheries – Global comparisons of sustainability and management

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Ever wondered how the sustainability of South African fisheries fair against international fisheries? The Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) implemented a project to look into exactly this. Five major South African fisheries were compared to three international fisheries per sector (representing in each case the largest global fishery, a Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC) certified fishery and a developing world fishery). The South African fisheries investigated were the hake trawl, small pelagic (sardine and anchovy), large pelagic (tunas and swordfish), rock lobster and squid.


The concept of sustainability in fisheries is complex and on a broader scale encompasses ecological, economic, institutional, social and technological dimensions. For the purpose of this study a sustainable fishery was defined simply as one whose practices can be maintained without reducing the ability of the targeted species to maintain its population at healthy levels, and without adversely impacting other species within the ecosystem by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment.

Fisheries were ranked and scored with respect to 1) the current status of the stock; 2) ecosystem impacts and mitigation measures; and 3) management efficiency. Professor Thomas Hecht from Advance Africa Management Services was tasked with evaluating fisheries against these criteria.

South African fisheries are outranked by the international fisheries they were compared to by very small margins. Three of the fisheries were ranked 2nd (small pelagic, large pelagic and south coast rock lobster), while the squid fishery was ranked in pole position and one each was ranked in the 3rd (hake fishery) and 4th (west coast rock lobster) positions.

Many of our local fisheries excelled, such as the south coast rock lobster fishery has a higher overall score than the MSC certified Baja California red rock lobster fishery. The higher score is essentially a consequence of the high profile ecosystems-based science that underlies management. The South African small pelagic fishery, which ranked second (by one point) behind the MSC certified Argentina anchovy fishery, stands out as a model of complex yet effective management. The fishery is the only one of its kind in the world that manages target and bycatch species simultaneously and successfully. In addition, the offshore hake trawl fishery and the tuna longline fishery have made enormous strides in reducing seabird mortalities to negligible levels and truly stand out in comparison to their global peers.

The results of this study have clearly shown that the science, the ecosystem approach to management, as well as the co-management structures and measures that have been put in place and that underlie the management of the South African fisheries, are of the highest order. South African scientists are considered leaders in the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries management and the country is one of the few countries that regularly conduct Ecosystem Risk Assessments on its fisheries. The final reports for this study can be accessed in the attachments below:


  1. Benchmarking SA Fisheries: Part 1 Exploitation Status (661.4 KiB)
    Exploitation of South African fisheries
  2. Benchmarking SA fisheries: Part 2 Global comparisons (1.3 MiB)
    Global comparisons of sustainability and management systems