LÜDERITZ, Namibia, 13 November 2002 -- At independence only a dozen years ago, this fishing port carved out of the stark desert coast was a ghost town. Today, it is a thriving centre of 25 000 people with enough job opportunities that Namibians flock to its processing plants and fishing fleets.

The creation of the Namibian fisheries sector is a success story par excellence. Today, it is considered a model of rigorous management of one of the world's richest fishing grounds, which is still recovering from severe overfishing in the 1970s and 1980s. But it is also a story of government determination to make sure the bounty would be shared among as many citizens as possible, from illiterate villagers to middle managers to a new cadre of fisheries inspectors and patrol officers to businessmen and civil servants.

14 000 new jobs

The proof -- 14 000 new jobs and US$354 million contributed to export earnings in 2000 -- means a lot to a small African country of 1.7 million people. It also means a lot to the families of the Namibian employees, whose remittances support whole villages in the populous north of the country.

FAO has worked with Namibia every step of the way by providing a special advisor to the Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, who heads a ministry that didn't even exist before independence in 1990. The advisor guides the government in myriad ways: structuring the ministry, right down to writing job descriptions for senior posts; implementing the fisheries master plan; drafting legislation; and monitoring whether Namibia is fulfilling international fishing treaty obligations.

"FAO was chosen because of its credibility, breadth of expertise and neutrality," says the Minister, Dr Abraham Iyambo. "We could have gone to a big fishing nation [for an advisor], but nations can change government. They are less reliable. The United Nations is always going to be there."

Starting an industry from scratch

Soon after independence, with support from Norway, the government produced a White Paper, a master plan for the fisheries sector that covered the development of a national fishing and processing industry. It addressed such detailed issues as sustainable stock management; job and business-ownership preference for Namibians, especially indigenous Namibians; modern monitoring and surveillance; research capacity; and a global profile for Namibia as a leading fishing nation.

"We are 10 years down the track now, and I can say that what was foreseen in the White Paper -- our bible -- is what has come about," says Paul Nichols, the current advisor, whose salary is paid by the Norwegian aid agency NORAD. "FAO's great success was to make sure it was followed."

Les Clark, advisor to the minister throughout the 1990s, praises the government's devotion to long-term planning. "If anybody had a reason for seeking short-term gains from their fish stocks at independence, it was Namibia," he says. "It had emerged from a long period of war. Its industries were very undeveloped. Unemployment was over 40 percent and cruel inequities existed in the society. Yet, they chose the long hard road of rebuilding stocks."

Dr Iyambo, who has a PhD in marine science from University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, says the government rigorously followed the White Paper because "it is important for investors. Is their money safe? You don't want to tell people this is policy today, and tomorrow you tell them it has changed."

He used fiscal incentives to increase Namibian participation in the fisheries sector. "The more foreigners you employ, the more fees you pay." While Namibians traditionally are not seagoing people, about 7 500 now work on fishing boats -- 65 percent of all crew members -- while in excess of 5 000 Namibians are employed on shore in processing factories.

Strong support for regulation -- from business

While deregulation has been the fashion in many sectors worldwide -- for example, transportation and energy -- over the past two decades, fishing companies in Namibia have been strong supporters of a tightly regulated industry, and they are willing to pay for it.

"We appreciate that they have a secure policing system," said Appie Louw, managing director of Marco Fishing (Pty) Ltd., a Lüderitz-based fishing company with nine vessels and 400 employees. "In some countries fishing is not properly policed. If a guy has a 100-tonne quota, he brings in 300 tonnes. Here you'll be caught out."

"Ninety percent of the time the boats go out with inspectors. We have to pay their salaries, which we don't like -- but it keeps everyone honest. If someone is dishonest, you can't compete with him."

The largest fishing company in Namibia is NovaNam Ltd., with 51 percent of voting equity owned by Namibian financial institutions, Namibian private investors and company staff and with operations in Lüderitz and Walvis Bay, the country's only other fishing port. A member of the Pescanova Group, the leading branded fish and seafood products company in Spain, NovaNam's huge Lüderitz waterfront plant employs 1 950 staff and is capable of processing more than 100 tonnes of fish a day, serviced by 19 fishing vessels.

"There are other rich fishing grounds in the world, but the resource management is here in Namibia," notes Miguel Angel Tordesillas, NovaNam's Group Senior General Manager. "The government introduced a scientific and political framework that was a pragmatic, sensible model. We were the first new investment to come back. Our confidence has been vindicated 150 percent -- we're continuing to invest and expand."