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David C. Boyer and Helen J. Boyer81


The factors causing unsustainability in fisheries have been examined in two recent FAO workshops. Numerous examples have been presented illustrating many of the consequences of unsustainable practices in fisheries. Namibia supports a large industrial fishery, its character being similar to many of the world's industrial fisheries. Due to good management practices (internalities) and fortunate circumstances (externalities), Namibia has developed a fisheries management regime that, according to our perceptions of fisheries management, should enable the recovery of its depleted stocks and then provide for long-term sustainable harvests. However, Namibia's success has been mixed. The status of some of the economically important stocks has undoubtedly improved, while others seem to have remained stable. However, several stocks, especially sardine Sardinops sagax and anchovy Engraulis capensis, have declined to such low levels that they can now be considered “collapsed.” Additionally, the recently discovered orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus stock declined in just a few years such that the current catch levels are barely economically viable.

This paper presents Namibia as a case study, briefly illustrating some of the important aspects of the fishery that should have contributed to successful management. It then examines several of the main factors that are considered to have contributed to the recent declines of the sardine and orange roughy fisheries and an attempt is made to ascertain what more could have been done to ensure the sustainable utilisation of these fish stocks.

It is shown that despite achieving most of the factors that promote sustainable utilisation of fish stocks, long-term sustainability is not guaranteed. It is concluded that if conventional fisheries management has had limited success in Namibia, then the chances of sustained success elsewhere are unlikely.


Fisheries management has evolved during the past century from the initial belief that it would be impossible to fish down the apparently inexhaustible abundance of fish in the oceans, to the current realisation that around 70 percent of the world's fish stocks are either fully or over-utilised (FAO 1997). Despite the plethora of examples of declining fish stocks, there is still no clear agreement on the causes of overfishing, nor on the solutions.

Due to good management practices and fortunate circumstances, Namibia has developed a fisheries management regime that, according to our perceptions of fisheries management, includes many of the recognised “good practices” that should contribute to a sustainable fishery (Swan and Gréboval 2003). Such a management system should have enabled the recovery of Namibia's depleted stocks to levels that would provide for long-term sustainable harvests. Despite this, Namibia's success has been patchy at best. Some stocks have recovered, but others not. Indeed, several of the stocks have declined in abundance and are in a more depleted state than at Independence in 1990, when the current fisheries management regime was implemented.

This paper takes Namibia as a case study, focussing primarily on two of the stocks that have declined in abundance: the sardine and orange roughy stocks. Throughout the paper the format of the previous FAO workshops on Unsustainability in Fisheries has been followed, dealing with the various aspects under the generic headings: bio-ecological, institutional, economic and social factors (Gréboval 2002, Swan and Gréboval 2003). The Namibian fisheries management system is largely based upon the use of economic incentives and penalties to encourage compliance; hence the institutional and economic factors that affect the sustainability of our two case-study species are dealt with together.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Namibia, showing the geographic features mentioned in the text


Marine fishing in Namibia is a relatively young industry. Colonisation by Europeans occurred in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies, later than most of the African continent, largely due to an arid and hostile natural landscape that appeared to have little to offer. Prior to this, few indigenous people visited the desolate coastline and although there are fascinating accounts of how small bands of nomads subsisted on shellfish and shallow water fish, their harvests can be measured in kilograms rather than tonnes. During the 19thcentury European and North American sailors plundered Namibia's rich seal and guano resources from several small offshore islands, and whales in the open ocean (Shaughnessy 1984), but again, these were rather isolated events that, despite the devastating impact on the exploited populations, had a limited impact on the marine system as a whole.

Even after the colonists arrived, fishing largely remained a subsistence activity. The coastline offered little shelter and the riches that were to be harvested later in the century remained undiscovered. Between the two World Wars a small snoek (Thyrsites atun) fishery was attempted, apparently with some promising results (Lees 1969). Not least of these were some large catches of sardine; a portent of the riches hidden below the waves. World War II put an end to these activities, but on the resumption of peace a new type of fishery developed along the coast of south western Africa, employing all the technological advances of the day. Large mechanised vessels, hydraulic winches hauling synthetic nets and acoustic fish-finding equipment all entered the fishery in the 1950s and 1960s, enabling fishers to harvest ever greater catches. By the early 1950s sardine catches had risen to around a quarter of a million tonnes per annum, and by the late 1960s this fishery became one of the largest the world had ever seen, or is likely to. Official landings peaked at 1.4 million tonnes in 1968, but with discards and illegal landings included, catches probably exceeded 2 million tonnes. This led to one of the most spectacular crashes witnessed within fisheries world-wide as catches declined to just 300 000 tonnes three years later and despite a small recovery in the mid-1970s, the fishery was reduced to a by-catch of just 12000 tonnes in 1980.

Throughout the 1960s, as the fish stocks in their own waters were becoming depleted, a number of deepwater fleets from Europe and the Soviet Bloc countries relocated to Namibian waters, targeting first the abundant horse mackerel Trachurus capensis stock and then hake Merluccius capensis and M. paradoxus. By Independence, in 1990, it is estimated that 20 million tonnes of these valuable fish had been caught in Namibian waters, with hardly any benefit accruing to the Namibian nation (Nichols 2004).

Political Independence in 1990 was a watershed for fisheries in Namibia, as indeed it was for all facets of life. The control of this once valuable resource was at last vested in Namibian hands, and an aggressive policy to promote the recovery of the resources to previous levels, and in particular the prosperity of the industry, was implemented. The policy was also designed to ensure that Namibians would benefit to the fullest possible extent.

At Independence the newly elected government inherited a number of commercial fish stocks that were severely over-fished. In terms of fisheries management the authorities were in an enviable situation of being able to initiate a new management regime with few of the historical, social and political constraints that so often inhibit policy changes (Boyer and Boyer 2003). Realising the potential value of fisheries to the young post-Independence economy, the government implemented policies to re-build the fish stocks. This led to the enactment or reform of a number of Acts that sought to conserve Namibia's natural resources, while promoting their sustainable utilisation (MFMR 1992, 2000). With support from foreign donors, biological research was initiated, an effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) regime was implemented and a legal framework to facilitate these initiatives was enacted. This legal framework and the policies, upon which it is based, incorporate many of the international fisheries management instruments (Boyer and Boyer 2003) and this gained widespread praise internationally (MFMR 2002).

Large increases in stocks were expected (MFMR 1991) and the status of some of the economically important stocks has undoubtedly improved, notably rock lobster Jasus lalandii (Grobler and Noli-Peard 1997), monk Lophius vomerinus (Maartens and Booth 2001) and hakes (Boyer and Hampton 2001). For example, between 1990 and 2000, the TACs of hake increased from 65000tonnes to almost 200 000 tonnes, monk from 5 000 tonnes to around 12000 tonnes and rock lobster from 100tonnes to 450 tonnes, although the increasing preponderance of small hakes in landings and the inability of the industry to catch the lobster TAC is causing some concern at present. The biomass of several other stocks seems to have stabilised close to their maximum sustainable yield levels, although their precise status is debated (e.g. horse mackerel, Boyer and Hampton 2001, and crab Chaceon maritae, Le Roux 1997).

At the beginning of the third millennium Namibian fisheries had two major fish stocks that despite apparently responsible management were considerably below their potential and were in an even worse state than 10 years previously. These were sardine and orange roughy (Boyer and Hampton 2001). The following sections investigate the assessment and management of these two stocks in an attempt to understand which actions, or lack of action, may have contributed to the declines of these stocks. A third stock that has also declined in abundance in recent years, anchovy, has frequently supported annual catches in excess of 100000 tonnes. This species is not dealt with here as it is not managed; in itself a cause for concern.

2.1 The sardine and orange roughy fisheries

2.1.1 Sardine

As noted above, Namibia's sardine stock has yielded some of the largest catches ever seen, although at Independence in 1990 the sardine fishery had suffered more than a decade of catches averaging around 50 000 tonnes. Several years of good recruitment saw the stock size increase to around 750 000 tonnes and consequently TACs increased to over 100 000 tonnes in the early to mid 1990s. The stock then declined again to below 500 000 tonnes, and in some years to considerably less, and catches decreased accordingly. Despite the reduced catches, the stock was in such a poor state that a moratorium was announced for the 2002 season, although good recruitment in that year saw a small TAC allowed for 2003 (Fig. 2). Various reports deal with the history of this fishery, notably Beckley and van der Lingen (1999), Crawford et al. (1987), Cram (1981), Thomas (1986), Boyer et al. (2001a), but, with the notable exception of Cram (1981), these focus almost entirely on biological aspects of the state of the stock and dwell little on the economic consequences of management actions.

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Sardine catches from Namibian waters since the start of the fishery (left panel), with the period since 1990 expanded (right panel)

2.1.2 Orange roughy

Exploration for orange roughy started in Namibia in 1994 and within 12 months several aggregations had been discovered, suggesting the existence of a biomass sufficient to support a viable fishery. During the next seven years the orange roughy fishery went through a three-year exploration phase, several years of profitable exploitation, and then a severe decline in catch rates. Catches peaked at over 15 000 t in 1997, but in recent years have been less than 2 000 tonnes per annum (Fig. 3). Whether this decline is a result of over-fishing, habitat alteration or disturbance of the spawning aggregations (Boyer et al. 2001b) is still unclear.

Figure 3.

Figure 3. Orange roughy catches from Namibian waters

2.2 External factors affecting the sustainability of Namibian fisheries

All fisheries operate within a set of factors that are outside of the control of the fisheries management authorities: externalities. The Namibian fishing sector is fortunate in that many of the externalities that define the environment within which the sector occurs would seem to promote the likelihood of successful sustainable utilisation.

2.2.1 Bio-ecological

The Benguela upwelling system supports some of the highest levels of productivity in the world (Hutchins 1992). It is a relatively simple ecosystem with few trophic levels, each species having relatively straight-forward interactions with other components of the system (Bianchi et al. 2004), and comparatively little seasonality (Cole 1997). Thus the dynamics of the system are considered to be somewhat less complicated than those of many other ocean systems, and hence comparatively easier to understand, monitor and manage.

A further factor that simplifies the management of the fishery relates to the political boundaries of the system. Environmental conditions close to Namibia's two maritime borders form natural barriers that limit the migration of many fish stocks, especially pelagic species (the Lüderitz upwelling cell in the south and the Angola-Benguela Front in the north, Agenbag and Shannon 1988, Shannon 1985). Thus many of Namibia's fish stocks are either not shared or only shared to a limited extent. Similarly, most fish stocks occur within 100 nm or so of the coast, well within the limits of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and are therefore not straddling stocks. Hence, the complicated, and often ineffective, international management arrangements that seem so often to contribute to the unsustainability of national fisheries are not as important in Namibia.

2.2.2 Economic and institutional

The economic and institutional environment within which the fisheries sector operates has several important characteristics that would seem to support the development of sustainable fisheries.

The Namibian constitution, which was implemented in 1990, was the first in the world to provide for the sustainable utilisation of natural resources based on scientific principles (Brown 1996). This has provided the basis for the promulgation of clear and robust legislation to facilitate fisheries management, and complimented with a strong and effective MCS, enables the courts to seriously punish transgressors.

Economically, fisheries in Namibia are one of the most important industries, accounting for 25 to 30 percent of exports and about 10 percent of GDP. The industry is one of the major employers in the country and as mining, Namibia's other key industry, declines in importance, long-term projections indicate that fishing will attain even greater prominence in the future. Therefore the government has identified this industry as key to the economic success of the country and has placed great importance on developing a vibrant and sustainable industry.

In contrast to many developing countries, the fishing industry is composed of a few large industrial companies and no artisanal fishers. This allows for a relatively simple management model. Similarly, the country has only two harbours and therefore landings are relatively easy to monitor.

2.2.3 Social

These biological, economic and institutional factors are supported by several social factors that would also seem to promote the development of a long-term sustainable fishing industry. Not least of these is the fact that Namibian fisheries management started with a clean slate in 1990 at Independence. The authorities were able to design a completely new fisheries management system with few of the historical cultural, social and political encumbrances that new policies so often have.

Additionally, the leaders of the country were politically very strong and therefore able to take unpopular but necessary decisions with impunity, i.e. they could plan beyond the time-frame of the next elections.

Table 1. Summary of the externalities affecting Namibian fisheries

Highly productive, ecologically simple systemConstitution requires sustainable utilisationFew historical or social constraints, easy to make policy changes
Few shared or straddling stocksEconomically valuable, therefore sustainable utilisation importantStrong government
 Few large companies, no artisanal fishers; hence relatively simple management structure 

2.3 Internal factors designed to promote the sustainability of Namibian fisheries

The Namibian fisheries policy is similar to the policy of many industrial fishing nations, namely: to promote the utilisation of the living marine resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of the nation, and to manage these fisheries based on scientific information and principles. Furthermore, Namibia has implemented a fisheries management system that incorporates many of the accepted best-practices as outlined in the major international fisheries conventions. Some of the major factors of this system are summarised below.

2.3.1 Bio-ecological

Obviously the biology and ecology of the northern Benguela ecosystem are outside of the control of the authorities and therefore are considered externalities. However, understanding the system and developing the ability to manage the fish stocks within the dynamics of the system can clearly be affected by the authorities. To this end, a small but effective research unit was established at Namibian Independence and has been well-supported, both financially and logistically, since then.

In order to pay for this research effort a research levy on all catches is paid into a research and training fund. This tends to be sufficient to support basic monitoring of the major fish stocks during “normal” or “good” years. However during periods when stocks are depressed, and TACs are reduced, the income to the fund is also reduced, at a period when research may be most required.

While much of the research information collected prior to Independence was lost as distant-water fishing nations withdrew their vessels and research programmes, close co-operation with marine biologists from neighbouring South African institutes has provided support for local research. In addition, substantial development aid was received from several of the world's leading fishing nations, partly in the form of material aid, but primarily in terms of training and more recently cooperative research. Hence considerable effort has been expended to track and predict the dynamics of the commercially important fish stocks, although as noted below (Section 3) much remains to be done.

Two further initiatives that are expected to have a significant impact on the fisheries management of the region are the BENEFIT82 and BCLME83 Programmes (BCLME 2002). These two programmes are complimentary research activities investigating the biological, social and economic framework within which the marine fisheries of the countries bordering the Benguela ecosystem operate. The ultimate goal of these programmes is to enhance all aspects of the management of this system.

2.3.2 Economic and institutional

Good governance is a prerequisite for sustainable fisheries. Namibia was perhaps even more aware of the necessity for good governance of fishing activities as the newly-elected government in 1990 inherited fish stocks that had been systematically depleted throughout the preceding decades. It is estimated that of the 8.6 million tonnes of hake caught in Namibian waters prior to Independence, only 0.004 percent of the value found its way into Namibia (Nichols 2004). One of the first acts passed after Independence was the proclamation of the 200 nm EEZ, demonstrating the importance attached by the government to responsible management of the marine region. This was followed in 1992 by the Sea Fisheries Act that was drafted for this newly established coastal state to take full control over its own resources and to build up Namibian involvement in the industry (MFMR 1992). Subsequently Namibia has signed various international fisheries management instruments that placed new obligations on the government that were not covered in the 1992 Act. Hence, in 2000 a revised act succeeded the original one, incorporating the key elements of these instruments (MFMR 2000). Thus, in terms of fisheries management, Namibia has adopted much of the important internationally accepted management legislature, with necessary adjustments for the particular circumstances of the country.

Concurrent with the development of the legislation to manage fisheries responsibly, Namibia's MCS system was developed. This is based on having observers on all but the smallest fishing vessels to monitor compliance and collect vital research data, sea patrols to enforce compliance and air patrols to detect unlicensed vessels. Transhipments at sea are not permitted and all landings are monitored at the two commercial fishing ports, while discarding of valuable by-catch species is not permitted. The by-catch of non-target commercial species is limited through by-catch levies which are high enough to discourage targeting on such species, but not so high as to encourage discarding.

Of the total landings more than 90 percent come from total allowable catch (TAC) controlled stocks, which are issued as individual non-transferable quotas. These TACs are based on scientific recommendations, recommendations which are followed to a remarkable degree by managers. Effort controls are also used in an attempt to prevent over-capitalisation. These are implemented through limited long-term vessel rights, the period of the right being largely determined by the level of Namibianisation of the vessel (see below). Additionally, none of the Namibian fisheries are subsidised, hence market forces largely control the efficiency of the various participants.

As a result of these developments, Namibia has gained a reputation for having one of the more effective governance systems (Nichols 2004). However, the cost effectiveness of any management system is a fairly subjective judgement. While some countries boast a positive management cost: income ratio for individual sectors of their fishing industry, Namibia is one of the few fishing nations that has a positive ratio for the entire industry (Wiium and Uulenga 2003).

The cost of Namibia's observer scheme is paid directly by the industry, while research is largely supported through levies on catches. Quota levies are also extracted, and have to be paid up-front, i.e. in advance of the fish being caught. This is the main form of resource rent that the fisher pays to the state for the right to harvest these fish. The levy is set at approximately 15 percent of any expected profit, thereby representing a high level of rent (Wiium and Uulenga 2003). The requirement that this levy is paid up-front encourages fishers to utilise the resource which they have been allocated and acts to deter inefficient operators. The overall cost of the Namibian management system has been estimated at around 6 percent of the landed value of the fishery for most years since Independence, although as TACs and fish product value have increased in recent years this had declined to 3.6 percent in 1999.

Lack of co-operation between states has been identified in some regions as a primary cause of overfishing, e.g. in European Union waters (Payne and Bannister 2003). This is largely avoided in Namibia because, as noted earlier, most fish stocks are only shared to a limited extent, if at all. Namibia's neighbours, Angola and South Africa, have been supportive and co-operative, providing assistance in the apprehension of illegal fishers, sharing of data, etc., despite the only formal bilateral agreements being Memoranda of Understanding to co-operate in fisheries research.

Furthermore, the Namibian fisheries authorities have recognised the importance of regional cooperation and have played a central role in the formation of several international and regional agreements. The most important of these as far as fisheries management within EEZs is concerned is the South African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Fisheries, which was signed in August 2001 by the 14 SADC members, although to date it, has not yet been ratified by all. Within fisheries research, the BENEFIT and BCLME programmes have been key developments and again Namibia has played a leading role, both in the initiation of these programmes and in their continuation.

Another recent agreement, the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Fishery Resources in the South East Atlantic Ocean was signed in April 2001 by Angola, the European Community, Iceland, Korea, Namibia, Norway, South Africa, UK (in respect of St. Helena and its dependencies) and USA. This convention aims to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of high seas fishery resources and straddling stocks in the convention area (excluding tunas, which are covered by ICCAT), through the establishment of the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO). Indeed, this is the first regional fisheries management organisation established in terms of the UNFSA (Doulman 1999, Nichols 2004).

2.3.3 Social

Namibia has a long history of social injustices prior to Independence (Iyambo 2004) and in an effort to redress the inequities of the past; the policy of Namibianisation has been introduced to many facets of life. The fishing sector is a classical example of these inequalities, whereby prior to Independence the industry was largely owned and managed by foreigners, with some limited participation of white Namibians. The black Namibians that were part of the industry held lowly jobs, mostly as seasonal workers in on-shore fish processing plants. The Namibianisation policy encourages the participation of “previously-disadvantaged” Namibians in the fishing industry, both at the ownership and management levels and in the provision of jobs for workers, both on shore and at sea.

The participation of Namibians is promoted at all levels of the industry. Licences are issued preferentially to vessels that are owned and crewed by Namibians, and the largest quotas are given to companies that own vessels, process fish on land (thereby providing employment opportunities for Namibians) and support welfare and other social causes. In addition, rebates on catch levies are offered according to the level of Namibian involvement. These equate to 25, 50 or 75 percent of the levy depending on the level of Namibianisation and as such form a strong incentive for companies to Namibianise. This policy has seen a major structural rearrangement of the industry, which in itself has facilitated the introduction of new initiatives. See Oelofsen (1999) and Boyer and Hampton (2001) for more details.

Finally, mention must be made of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has hit Namibia harder than most countries, where national infection rates are currently estimated to be greater than 20 percent and in coastal towns closer to 30 percent and rising (UNAID/WHO 2004). Fishing communities often suffer higher infection rates than other sectors (Allison and Seeley 2004) and hence it can be expected that this will have a profound impact on Namibia's fishing and ancillary coastal industries. While some laudable efforts have been made by the authorities and fishing companies to reduce infection rates, the lack of planning to mitigate against the severe economic and social impacts of the disease is alarming.

Table 2. Some internalities that affect the Namibian fishing industry

Effective national research componentDevelopment of effective legislature and fisheries management policiesPolicies developed to address past social injustices, notably Namibianisation
Research supported by foreign countriesImplementation of recognised fisheries management instrumentsHIV/AIDS
Development of regional research programmesImplementation of effective (and cost-effective) monitoring, control and surveillance 
 Authorities have actively promoted regional cooperation 


The previous section suggests that, due to the circumstances within which the fishing industry operates, and the policies introduced by the authorities, the management of marine fish stocks in Namibian waters would be more likely to be successful than in many regions of the world. As noted in the Introduction, contrary to this assumption two of the stocks, sardine and orange roughy, have declined in abundance, and consequently catches have fallen. This section highlights some of the factors that contributed to these declines, comparing factors that are common to both, and are hence likely to be of importance to other fisheries.This is particularly pertinent as these species are in many ways at opposite ends of the range of life-history strategies exhibited by fish and therefore it would seem that they have little in common. Sardine is short-lived and highly fecund, while orange roughy are extremely long-lived with a very low reproductive potential. Sardine occur in highly productive, near-surface coastal waters, while orange roughy are meso-pelagic/demersal, occurring at great depths where productivity is low and nutrient cycling is extremely slow. These differences, and the similarities between the two species, make it especially illustrative to consider why these two species in particular have fared so badly in Namibia.

3.1 Bio-ecological factors

3.1.1 Shoaling behaviour

One common biological feature of sardine and orange roughy is that both form dense shoals that facilitate, amongst other things, their capture by commercial fishers. Densely shoaling species often remain profitable to harvest, even when stocks are severely depressed, as the CPUE remains high even at very low stock sizes. Therefore there is a risk of the fishery becoming biologically unsustainable before it reaches economic unsustainability.

This factor becomes particularly important if the dynamics of the stock are poorly understood or not closely monitored. The consequence of this high catchability is evident in a number of the sections that follow, whereby we suggest that a lack of timeous management action by the authorities may have allowed the depletion of the stocks at a greater rate than would have occurred in non-aggregating species. Whether these declines could have been prevented, or at least partially alleviated, given more timeous intervention is not clear, but given the social, economic and biological consequences in both of the fisheries documented here, there is clearly a case for taking all possible actions to reverse these trends.

3.1.2 Lack of knowledge

A considerable amount of research has been targeted at sardine over many decades, but in recent years the stock has been at such a low level that much of the accumulated knowledge has either been misleading or redundant. For example, previous spawning and recruitment relationships seem to no longer apply, hence predicting future stock levels has become increasingly difficult. This may be further compounded by changes in the ecosystem, possibly due to a regime shift, which means that much of this historical knowledge may be no longer applicable. In contrast, the dynamics of the deep waters where orange roughy are found is poorly studied and despite a dedicated programme directed at orange roughy being initiated soon after the fishery was started, knowledge of the ecology and behaviour of this species remains elusive. The high cost of deep-water marine research merely exacerbates this problem. The net result is that scientists currently have a poor understanding of the population dynamics of both species, making predictions for optimal catch levels highly uncertain.

A clear example of this is the management reaction to the decline of the sardine spawner biomass following several years of poor recruitment. Sardine is serial batch spawners with a high fecundity. Therefore, while many of the spawning products are lost the strategy of spreading spawning throughout a large part of the year, and probably throughout a range of environmental conditions, at least some will survive most years. However when a stock is reduced to a small fraction of its unfished state, and crucially to a few cohorts, as the Namibian sardine stock has been since the 1970s, the stock becomes particularly vulnerable to a number of consecutive years of poor recruitment. Twice during the 1990s the Namibian sardine stock suffered several years of poor recruitment. However, as neither egg, larval nor juvenile fish numbers were monitored, the subsequent decline in abundance was only detected in surveys of adult sardine once they had reached maturity. Initially it was not clear if this decline was simply due to survey variability or was in fact real. Thus it was only after several more surveys that the decline was “confirmed”, which was almost two years after the decline started. As a result of the uncertainties in predicting recruitment levels, the reaction of management lagged behind the dynamics of the stock, allowing fishing mortality to remain high during periods when the stock size was decreasing, thus exacerbating the situation. In contrast, potential yield was also forgone during periods of increasing stock size as the TACs were still set for the preceding poor periods.

Another example comes from the orange roughy fishery. The behaviour of orange roughy was, and still is, poorly understood. In 1998 and 1999 when the acoustic surveys recorded a considerable reduction in the abundance of orange roughy on the fishing grounds, a number of hypotheses were proposed to account for this decline (Boyer et al. 2001b). The most obvious hypothesis seemed to be that the original stock size had been overestimated and hence TACs set too high and therefore the decline was directly attributable to fishing mortality. However the results of population models to test this hypothesis were inconclusive and hence management was reticent to take any remedial actions.

Other hypotheses to account for the reduction in orange roughy catches were the occurrence of a mass emigration or mortality event, or that the formation of spawning aggregations were episodic events, rather than annual as occurred elsewhere. To date no evidence to support these hypotheses has been found.

The consequence of this lack of understanding of the aggregating dynamics of orange roughy is that the management of the fishery has vacillated between the various scenarios, unable to confidently follow a management strategy that could reverse the decline in the fishery. The TAC has been set at levels that, according to several of these hypotheses, are precautionary. However, the industry has failed to catch this TAC every year since 1998 suggesting that even these TACs may have been insufficiently precautionary.

More recent information supports a fourth hypothesis; that spawning aggregations of orange roughy are easily disturbed by fishing activities and that although the total stock size remains high, the behaviour of the spawning stock (which is also the fishable portion of the stock) changes due to disturbance by fishing. This evidence comes largely from one fishing ground that was closed for several years to test this hypothesis, and after four years a dramatic increase in abundance was recorded. The ground was re-opened to fishing soon thereafter and the fish once again disappeared.

3.1.3 Uncertainties in assessment

The shoaling behaviour of both these species allows for their assessment with a combination of acoustics and trawling and this technique has been used extensively in Namibia. Acoustics, like any form of assessment, has a number of inherent uncertainties resulting in imprecise results (Boyer and Hampton 2001). As noted above with the orange roughy fishery, as a result of these uncertainties management tended to disregarded scientific recommendations until the signs were incontestable (Boyer et al. 2001a). This lack of precision has also been used by the industry to cast doubt on the scientific recommendations in an attempt to keep TACs at a high level (Boyer and Boyer 2003, Boyer and Oelofsen 2004).

This is illustrated in the sardine fishery, where scientists have recommended a spawner biomass limit reference point of 500000tonnes (and a target reference point of 1000000tonnes). However, this level is based on a rather poorly defined spawner-stock biomass recruitment relationship and consequently while the concept of such a reference point has been accepted in principle, it has not been applied in practice. This is principally because the application of such a limit reference point would have required the immediate closure of the fishery and hence has been resisted by both management and the industry.

Due to the aggregating behaviour of both species the occasional large catch has been made even during periods when these stocks have been critically depleted. The respective industries have consequently used these catches to insist that their stock is in a healthy state and place pressure on the authorities to maintain and sometimes even increase quotas during periods of stock decline when scientific assessments clearly suggested that caution was needed.

3.2 Institutional and economic factors

Section 2 of this paper concluded that Namibia has the basis of an effective management system that provides the necessary tools for the authorities to manage fisheries sustainably. It would therefore seem that the declines in the orange roughy and sardine fisheries cannot be accounted for by a lack of fisheries management instruments. However these instruments need to be effectively applied and the following paragraphs briefly discuss several of the key institutional and economic factors that hindered the application of these instruments, and consequently may have contributed to unsustainability in one or both of these fisheries.

3.2.1 Management strategy

The principal aim of the orange roughy fishery has been to develop a profitable industry based on harvesting at a sustainable level. At the start of the fishery, a management strategy was implemented whereby a fourteen-year fishing down phase was to be followed by sustainable fishing once the stock approached the maximum sustainable yield biomass. As detailed earlier, this strategy was not successful, and the fishery declined to considerably below the MSY level in just a couple of years.

In contrast, the goal for the sardine stock has been to promote a recovery following the pre-independence years of over-exploitation. However, conflicting strategies have been implemented while attempting to achieve this. Such a rebuilding strategy implies reducing catches, or even implementing a moratorium, but at the same time the continued operation of the sardine fishery, even at very low levels, is seen as critical to safeguard employment and the prosperity of Namibia's main harbour town, Walvis Bay.

The lack of a clear and accepted management plan in the sardine fishery means that the objective of enabling the stock to recover has frequently been superseded by the needs of the fishing industry. However, in terms of orange roughy the existence of a clear management plan, with defined goals, did little to prevent the collapse of this fishery and clearly other aspects of the management of this species were also critical to the success of the fishery.

3.2.2 Secure rights

The lack of secure rights, and hence an incentive to look after a fish stock, has been noted as a major factor leading to the unsustainability of many fisheries. The Namibian authorities have granted secure rights lasting for between four and 15 years (20 year rights are also available, but to date no one has qualified). Despite this, fishers have frequently fought for higher short-term catches at the risk of the long-term sustainability of the stock. The threat of immediate foreclosure by financial institutions during periods of poor catches has obviously taken precedence over longer-term involvement in the industry. Until such a time that financial institutions align their policies to a long-term horizon for the fishing industry, and allow the industry to plan in terms of decades rather than annually, fishers will continue to be forced to take unnecessary risks in the short-term to ensure their participation in the longer-term, assuming of course that the fish stocks survive.

3.2.3 Co-management

Fishers are often fishers, at least in part, because the form of lifestyle offers a level of independence rarely found elsewhere. Such people take poorly to top-down controls traditionally found in fisheries management (Jentoft et al. 1998), the type of control system that to a large extent is predominant in Namibia. In recent years the Namibian authorities have attempted to incorporate some sectors of the fishing industry into the management process through formal arrangements. This is partly so that they can contribute to the process, but also to increase the transparency of the management process and to ensure that the industry has a part-ownership of any decisions that are taken (Boyer and Oelofsen 2004). This involvement of the industry in the management process is seen as an important component of successful management (e.g. FAO 1995, Gréboval 2002).

The main mechanism for this process in Namibia has been through the establishment of working groups that have been formally mandated for most fisheries to participate in the collection and analysis of research data. The development of the orange roughy fishery in the mid-1990s provided the first attempt for this form of co-management in Namibia and to some extent the process has proved to be successful (Boyer et al. 2001b, Boyer and Oelofsen 2004). Working groups have since been formed in partnership with a number of other sectors of the fishing industry, although this only occurred in 2003 with the sardine fishery.

While it is perhaps premature to judge whether such a management arrangement affected the decline in the orange roughy stock, it has to be noted that the fishery declined remarkably quickly despite the close involvement of the industry in the assessment of the state of the stock. Thus, in this case, a transparent and co-operative management system seems to have provided limited benefit.

In contrast to the orange roughy fishery, the involvement of the sardine fishery in management and research has until recently been considerably less structured (Boyer and Oelofsen 2004). This has resulted in lesser acceptance of the outputs of research and the subsequent management decisions, and possibly more pressure being applied to the managers to maintain catch levels during periods when they should have been reduced (Boyer and Oelofsen 2004).

3.2.4 Precautionary approach

The precautionary approach (FAO 1995) has become prevalent in virtually all of the recently formulated international fisheries management instruments and the Namibian management authorities have stated their intention of implementing precautionary strategies. However to date this has not been done in any formal way. Similarly the precautionary approach has been incorporated into the SEAFO Convention, although how it will be implemented is not described. There are no obvious examples of the precautionary approach being applied to the small pelagic fisheries, and a number of instances when such an approach was clearly needed. For example, in the mid-1990s, when the sardine stock was perceived to be declining, the scientific evidence was seen as inconclusive and the TAC was allowed to remain high, the consequences of which were disastrous (Boyer et al. 2001a).

Some of the orange roughy management decisions have clearly been precautionary. For example the TAC in 1998 was set considerably below the scientifically recommended level, in order that the accumulation of fishing capacity could be done gradually (Boyer et al. 2001b). Another example was the assumption that the various orange roughy aggregations were independent stocks, which were then managed separately (Boyer et al. 2001b). However, other decisions have been less precautionary, in particular the rejection of the more precautionary hypotheses to explain the observed decline in abundance of aggregating orange roughy in favour of more optimistic explanations. This allowed a small reduction in TAC in 1999 when scientific evidence suggested that a much greater reduction was necessary. Subsequently the TAC has been kept relatively high, and even increased, despite the industry being unable to catch the TAC. Similarly, the decision to reopen a closed ground within weeks of a build-up of fish being discovered, part way through an experiment to monitor the aggregating dynamics of orange roughy in the absence of fishing, was hardly of a precautionary nature.

Therefore it seems clear that a more rigorous and formal application of the precautionary approach may have at least partially alleviated the declines in both fisheries.

3.2.5 Excess capacity

Excess capacity (and consequently over-fishing) is a burning issue for many fishing sectors and globally is considered as one of the main factors causing unsustainability in fisheries (Gréboval 2002). The primary management tool of the Namibian fisheries management system is TACs and thus, in theory, controlling capacity should merely be an economic factor.

The small pelagic purse seine fleet in Namibia has declined from around 40 vessels in the 1980s and early 1990s to less than 15 vessels by the millennium in response to declining TACs. Even so, these vessels are normally active for just a few months of the year, often catching less than 10 tonnes per GRT each year. This compares to about 90 tonnes per GRT per year in the mid-1970s, suggesting that a large over-capacity still exists (Manning 2000). Similarly, most of the Namibian canning and fishmeal plants lie idle for the greater part of each year. Hence it is not surprising that great pressure has been placed on the fisheries authorities to maintain quotas at a level that allows this massive capacity to remain productive (Boyer et al. 2001a, Boyer and Oelofsen 2004).

The orange roughy fishery was initially restricted to five vessels which, given the initial indications of stock size, matched the expected catches. However, when the availability of orange roughy declined in 1998, the fishery was left with excess capacity. Pressure was brought to bear on the authorities not to reduce the catch levels too far until irrefutable evidence was available to support such a reduction (Boyer et al. 2001b), and hence TACs were kept at levels above the scientific recommendations. Similarly, the recent opening of a closed fishing ground was contrary to scientific recommendations and driven by the needs of the industry to utilise its excess capacity.

Hence, despite the Namibian system of limiting catches through output controls, it is clear that excessive capacity (caused in this instance by the declines in both of these stocks) places extra pressure on fisheries managers to maintain catches above sustainable levels.

3.2.6 Variability

Most manufacturing industries prefer to operate under a climate of stability. However, in any form of industry that deals with natural living resources a certain amount of variability is the norm. This is exaggerated in short-lived species such as sardine, which occasionally have population changes of more than an order of magnitude between one year and the next. Hence biologically optimal harvest levels also change, both up and down, by similar levels of magnitude. The economic and social consequences of this variability are difficult to manage, and there is an obvious case for changing the TAC slowly. Unfortunately, in Namibia both industry and management have tended to focus on the better years and to regard these as the norm. Hence effort levels are set commensurate with the yields of these years, and during years of lower productivity this excess effort becomes redundant and, as noted above, pressure is placed on the authorities to maintain catches at higher levels.

3.2.7 Excessive by-catch

Excessive by-catch is recognised as another contributory factor to unsustainability in many fisheries, and the need for its control is noted in a number of international fisheries management instruments. Namibia has developed a system of economic incentives to minimise by-catch and empirical data from the hake fishery suggests that under certain circumstances this can be effective. Monk has traditionally been a valuable by-catch and prior to Independence constituted around 3 percent of the total hake fishery landings. When the by-catch levy was introduced this by-catch declined immediately by about 50 percent as a result of reduced targeting of this species (Boyer and Boyer 2003). A particularly high by-catch levy has been placed on orange roughy and the by-catch of trawlers targeting other species in the same area is virtually zero. Whether this would have been so without such a levy system is unknown. However it can be concluded that by-catch has not been a contributory factor in the decline of the orange roughy stocks.

A different form of by-catch limitation is imposed in the midwater trawl fishery to protect the sardine resource. If any catch contains sardine (or more than five percent hake or young horse mackerel) the fleet must leave that area. Similarly, if the purse seine fleet catches more than five percent juvenile sardine, the area is closed to fishing for several weeks. The industry self-regulates these closures, and monitoring by the authorities suggests a fair degree of success. However it has to be noted that unsubstantiated rumours of discarding of young sardine by purse seiners and processing of sardine into fishmeal by midwater trawlers constantly circulate in the fishery, indicating that control of sardine by-catch may not be entirely successful. Thus for the sardine fishery the level of by-catches is unknown and it must be concluded that by-catch may have played a role in the decline of the stock.

3.3 Social factors

In recent years Namibia has undergone radical social change that has affected all spheres of life. Fishing has become an important component of the national economy and now provides employment for a large number of Namibians (Boyer and Hampton 2001). There are very limited opportunities for alternative employment and this provides a strong incentive to create stable fisheries industries. However this means that measures to reduce fishing activities are difficult to implement due to the short-term losses in jobs and revenue (Boyer and Boyer 2003). Almost invariably, any attempts to reduce catches (in any sector of the fishing industry) results in pressure on the authorities to maintain catch levels in order to keep existing fishing vessels and factories operational for as much of the year as possible. This has been clearly illustrated through lobbying of decision-makers by both the companies and labour unions of the sardine industry, appealing to the authorities to support the beleaguered industry such that jobs were not lost. This included attempts to discredit the science (and occasionally the scientists themselves). The uncertainties inherent in the surveying and assessment of the fish stocks are frequently highlighted and used to undermine the recommendations emanating from this research (Boyer and Oelofsen 2004). Despite the government being particularly strong, with only a fragmented opposition, it has proved politically expedient to occasionally acquiesce to such pressures.

While the HIV/AIDS pandemic has probably had limited impact on fisheries management in Namibia to date, this disease will undoubtedly have a major impact in the future.


The Namibian authorities have, either explicitly or implicitly, been considering several alternative fisheries management approaches to the conventional single-species management system currently employed; in itself a tacit recognition that such an approach does not work. These alternatives are briefly discussed below:

4.1 Ecosystem and multispecies management

Ecosystem approaches to management, including multispecies, ecosystem and biodiversity issues, are currently being investigated in Namibia, and indeed a stated goal for Namibia's fisheries is to establish a fully functional ecosystem health monitoring system by 2005 (MFMR 2002).

The current single species management system requires fairly detailed comprehension of many of the bio-ecological aspects of each managed stock and, as we have noted above, such an understanding is often lacking or at best incomplete. Ecosystem and/or multispecies management is essentially a development of the current single-species system, but requires an even greater understanding of the system. Concerns have been expressed as to whether this is a realistic goal (Bianchi et al. 2004), not only in developing countries such as Namibia, but also within countries with a better developed fisheries research capacity.

We therefore question whether ecosystem approaches to fisheries management will increase the likelihood of long-term sustainable utilisation of stocks in any but the well-researched and monitored systems. The number of uncertainties in assessments will increase; hence managers will have less confidence in the information available on which to base decisions. This method certainly represents a worthy goal, but until the dynamics of fish stocks, and indeed ecosystems as a whole, are clearly understood and monitored we suspect that it will provide few benefits over the current single-species model, and probably at much greater cost.

4.2 Marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are gaining in popularity for the management of restricted habitats (e.g. estuaries) and sedentary organisms and their associated communities (e.g. coral reefs). In many ways, the MPA management approach is non-targeted and imprecise, and, in respect of knowledge and data requirements, at the opposite end of the scale to ecosystem management. MPAs may however represent a useful tool until our understanding of both the biological, social and economic aspects of fisheries (and their interactions) are better known.

MPAs have been used in several sectors of Namibian fisheries, including orange roughy when one of the aggregating areas for spawning orange roughy was closed to all fishing activities for four years. This resulted in a five-fold increase in the biomass of orange roughy aggregating on this ground and has led to suggestions that the concept of the MPA approach could be extended, possibly with some form of rotational opening of the grounds. This would allow some of the spawning stocks a resting period to recover from the disturbance caused by fishing, while others were being fished.

This example demonstrates that MPAs can be successfully applied to open-ocean wild fish stocks, although in this case it was limited to a part of the life cycle when the stock was relatively sedentary. Whether such a system can be successfully used to manage more mobile stocks, such as sardine, is less certain.

4.3 Controlling demand through market forces

Enhancement of demand for sustainably managed stocks through product certification schemes (e.g. the Marine Stewardship Council) is another tool that, while cumbersome, may well be useful until more precise fisheries management methods can be applied.

Indeed, controlling fisheries through economic penalties and incentives may well be the most realistic hope of limiting the exploitation of fish stocks by large industrial concerns, such as those in Namibia.

Concerns about the lack of transparency during the evaluation process, and suggestions that accreditation may be based on factors unrelated to the sustainability of the stock being certified, have deterred the Namibian authorities from supporting such schemes. For example, Namibia's policy of sustainably harvesting its seal population is criticised by many animal rights groups, and it is considered likely that seal harvesting may affect the certification of other marine resource products.


The preceding pages have summarised some of the factors that have contributed to the decline of two of Namibia's most economically important fish stocks during the past decade. These declines have occurred despite a reasonably good understanding of the biology of the fish and functioning of the ecosystem, and the implementation of a wide range of good management practices, including those enshrined in many of the international fisheries instruments. These are summarised in Table 3.

Of the main factors that resulted in excessive fishing of the Namibian orange roughy and sardine stocks in the 1990s, perhaps the most important was uncertainties concerning the state of each stock, resulting in management decisions which were insufficiently cautious to address the decline in the stocks. With better information it is quite possible that the authorities and fishing industry may have adopted different policies or taken different decisions, which may have reduced, if not prevented, the declines that these two stocks suffered.

For example, scientific recommendations to reduce fishing mortality of the sardine stock in the mid 1990s went unheeded because of the uncertainties in the assessments and therefore the strong pressure from the industry to keep TACs high was acceded to. It is suggested that if the scientific advice had been based on more certain results it may have been acted upon much earlier.

In orange roughy the cause of the decline in abundance on the fishing grounds is still unclear, with the obvious consequence that the authorities are unable to formulate any clear plans to enhance the recovery of the stocks.

Table 3. Factors related to decline of sardine and orange roughy

  SardineOrange roughy
Bio-ecologicalShoaling makes vulnerable
Shoaling gives perception of abundance
Lack of knowledge
Institutional-economicManagement reaction too slow
Management strategyX
Secure rightsXX
Precautionary approach
Excess capacity
Excessive by-catchX
SocialPressure to maintain jobsX

What is also clear from the above is that in both fisheries, these declines could have been minimised if the precautionary approach had been applied. In each case, while some signs indicated that the stocks were declining and that fishing mortality should be reduced, the assessments contained sufficient uncertainty that, due to the potential socio-economic importance of the stocks, scientific recommendations were ignored and fishing continued.

Finally, the overall conclusion of this case study has to question the applicability of conventional management systems, as used in Namibia and elsewhere. The Namibian bio-ecological system is relatively simple compared to most marine systems, while many of the institutional aspects are also uncomplicated and hence seemingly relatively easy to manage. This suggests that Namibia has been in the enviable position of having a greater chance of success with fisheries management than many others. The fact that Namibia has seen increases in the abundance of several fish stocks is encouraging, but the lack of success in sardine and orange roughy demonstrates that conventional fisheries management methods cannot guarantee success. While small incremental refinements to current management models are obviously desirable, a completely new approach may be necessary if the fisheries of the future are to be more successful than in the past.


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81 The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors, David C. Boyer and Helen J. Boyer, Somerset, UK, and Witwatersrand, South Africa,

82 BENEFIT is the Benguela Environment Fisheries Interaction and Training Programme.

83 BCLME is the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme.

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