JOHANNESBURG - The South African guidelines for healthy eating promote the daily consumption of fish due to its nutritional value, but how much fish are South Africans really consuming? And with an ever-increasing population, how will we meet the future demand for fish? How do we ensure it’s available, accessible, and affordable to all?
Internationally, consumption of at least two portions of fish per week is promoted as part of a healthy diet due to its many nutritional benefits.
Fish contains low-fat, high-quality protein and is packed with vitamins and nutrients that can help reduce heart attacks.
The omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial to brain development and thought to decrease the risks of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes as well as arthritis.
In reality, fish consumption in South Africa is estimated to be around 6-8kg per person a year (per capita), which equates to less than one portion of 200g per week.
This is considered very low compared to the global average consumption of 20kg per capita, with countries like Japan as high as 50kg of fish for each individual.
While consumption of fish is promoted for health reasons, one needs to be cognisant of the fact that overfishing has placed strain on the world’s wild fisheries, and in the future, with a growing world population, additional fish demand will need to be sourced through aquaculture (fish farming).
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN estimates that nearly two thirds of the global fish supply will be from farmed fish or seafood by 2030. At the same time, an additional 50 million tons will be required to feed the world’s population.
The local wild fishery sector is an important part of the nation’s food supply, supports the livelihood of thousands of coastal communities and is an avenue for economic opportunities. It employs more than 27000 people in the commercial sector and 7000 people in the deep-sea trawling industry.
The industry is valued at over R6billion and earns more than R3.4bn in foreign exchange every year.
In order to maintain our food and nutrition security through this important sector and open new avenues of economic opportunities, job creation and inclusive growth, the government has prioritised developing the local aquaculture sector through its Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy initiative.
Aquaculture (fish farming) involves breeding, rearing and harvesting finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants in aquaculture farms across the country. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries promotes the growth of the sector in a sustainable manner.
Over and above the potential socio- economic benefits of aquaculture, the sector can contribute towards reducing pressure on wild-caught fish stocks and help rebuild stock of threatened or endangered species.
To date there are 35 aquaculture projects around the country that have registered with the Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy initiative, and more aquaculture projects are in the pipeline.
Since the launch of the initiative, more than R700million has been invested in the aquaculture sector by the government and private sector.
Our investment into the aquaculture sector contributes significantly to our national goals of rapidly growing the economy and supporting socio-economic development.
Opportunities in the aquaculture sector are supporting rural economic development for both inland and coastal communities. It has started a cycle of economic activity, employment and consumer demand in these communities.
The government and relevant stakeholders in the sector are also unlocking the growth of the sector through the allocation of land and water leases for aquaculture, creating an enabling legislative environment, ensuring certification of product safety, opening up new local and international markets, and building capacity to meet the growth of the sector.
For example, in order to address the scarce skills in fish health, the department has sent five state vets abroad to acquire an MSc degree in aquatic medicine this year.
Moreover, through these projects, the government has also been hard at work to grow the contribution of small businesses which fulfil an important role of empowering people and drawing new entrants into the economy.
Aquaculture is part of our bigger plan to tap into the economic and job creation potential of the oceans economy, whose industries are now diverse and on the rise. It includes marine transport and manufacturing; offshore oil and gas exploration; small harbours development; and coastal and marine tourism.
The sustainable growth of these sectors is ensured through implementing a sound ocean governance framework.
We expect that by 2033 the oceans economy sector is estimated to have the potential to contribute up to R170bn to the country’s GDP and create more than a million jobs.
Since its launch in 2014, it has re- corded steady gains, and last year alone, the sector attracted more than R25bn in investment, while also creating more than 6500 jobs.
The development of the oceans economy is part of the government’s commitment to move South Africa forward and address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
To realise its full potential in job creation and economic growth in the sector, it will require all South Africans, the private sector, industry, civil society and academia to partner with the government in rolling out our projects in communities across the country.
Every citizen has an important role in helping us realise the country of our dreams. It requires each one of us to roll up our sleeves to build our nation and, where possible, lend a hand to bring others along on our journey.
South Africans are encouraged to support and promote our various aquaculture projects around the country. The next time seafood is on the menu at your home or favourite restaurant, ensure it’s locally caught or from one of our nation’s very own fish farms.
Senzeni Zokwana is the Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.