(First published in Norwegian 03 Okt 2005)
By Erik Hagen
A group of black fishermen in the South African fishing village of Gansbaai believe that the Norwegian–owned fish-farming company Salmon Salar Sea Farming has behaved in a highly reprehensible manner.
The fishermen, who are affiliated with the local fishing company Rowmoor, have told Norwatch that they were dropped from the Norwegians’ fish-farming plans after Salmon Salar obtained the required permits. They believe the company used them to comply with the legislation requiring black participation and that they have been used just to create the impression that the project was locally anchored.
South Africa’s financing institution for black participation in the labour market, National Empowerment Fund, has also harshly criticized Salmon Salar for excluding the company.
Many of the fishermen in Gansbaai have been forced into unemployment or poaching because traditional fish stocks have been severely depleted and fishing quotas are shrinking. Norwatch visited Gansbaai in August and met several fishermen. When Salmon Salar proposed building a salmon farm in the bay, many hoped that this would entail both jobs and income for the village.
Never before has a breeding farm bobbed in the water outside the coast of Africa. If the Norwegian-owned pilot project is successful, more companies may choose to invest in aquaculture in South Africa.
The pilot project is therefore studied with great interest both by companies in Norway and by the local authorities. The coast should be ideal for aquaculture, with perfect raising conditions for fastidious Norwegian salmon fry. In the meanwhile, there are several obstacles. There is no legislation regulating this industry, and there is no ministry or supervisory body with experience in aquaculture. Furthermore, the farm has been placed in the vicinity of the playground of the world’s greatest concentration of protected white sharks, which has created furore among local animal protectionists.
Demand local partners
Even though the legislation for aquaculture has not yet been established, clear regulations exist for foreign investment in fisheries generally in South Africa. To prevent foreign investors from knocking the bottom out of local fisheries, the authorities have decided, among other things, that foreigners who start fishing projects in South Africa must have a South African partner as the main owner of the project.
In addition, the company must satisfy the conditions for black participation. Through heavy investment in “Black Economic Empowerment”, South African authorities hope to improve the conditions for the traditionally marginalized black population. All companies that become established in South Africa are now required to ensure that a fourth of the owners are black and that the black population is provided with jobs and vocational training. The Parliament has earmarked means for a national fund – the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) – to support promising ventures.
In several cases, however, the alliance between black and white and between foreigners and South Africans has ended in discordant partnerships. For Salmon Salar, a difficult collaboration like this has led to a great deal of negative media coverage, especially through two major TV documentaries on South Africa’s state channel SABC in August this year.
According to Salmon Salar’s original proposal, the salmon farm in Gansbaai would take into account both local ownership of the company and black work places locally.
Norwatch has met with several fishermen affiliated with the company Rowmoor. They claim that the green light for starting the project was given on the condition that it was to be carried out with local owners from Gansbaai as partners. Negotiations on the financing of the project between the black Rowmoor-affiliated fishermen and the Norwegian Salmon Salar were carried out over a long period.
Rowmoor obtained 6,7 million rand (approx. € 950.000) from the National Empowerment Fund to invest in the project.
Then, however, the project unexpectedly took a different course.
“We were pushed completely to the sidelines”, Evan Matthews, Rowmoor’s manager told Norwatch.
“First, during the application phase, Salmon Salar used all our political contacts. Then they used ‘black participation’ as an argument to get the permit approved. But after they had received approval we have not heard anything whatsoever from them”, Matthews said.
In a letter from the National Empowerment Fund to Salmon Salar, to which Norwatch has had access, the exclusion of Rowmoor is called “unfortunate”, and the financial institution claims this can lead to conflicts locally.
“Without getting into any legal issues, we feel that Rowmoor has a right to participate in the Salmon Salar transaction on moral and ethical grounds and we would urge you to reconsider your stance”, the National Empowerment Fund wrote to Salmon Salar.
The local Gansbaai fishermen Norwatch has met are angry. They have occasionally read about Salmon Salar in the newspaper and realize that the salmon project is successful.
Even long after the negotiations were completed, the local press continued to write about the project as if it were a partly Rowmoor-led project. But they have no idea what part Rowmoor has in the project today.
“Salmon Salar has misused us”, the fishermen claim.
Rowmoor manager Matthews has informed Norwatch that they have now contacted the Minister of Environment. The company demands that Salmon Salar’s licence be temporarily revoked until the two parties have agreed to meet at the negotiating table once more.
Georg Ågotnes, Salmon Salar’s main owner and general manager, rejects outright that the black marginalized population of Gansbaai has been excluded from the project. According to the Norwegian, the company today has “loads of” black part owners. Furthermore, he claims that there never existed a partnership between Rowmoor and Salmon Salar but rather that negotiations about collaboration were discontinued because the parties could not agree on the financing of the project.
“Since then we have not heard from them until now”, he says.