by Staff Writer

The state of SA’s ocean economy

South Africa is a large consumption country for aquafarming produce, considering that the country is largely surrounded by the ocean


A lack of the latest technology is one of the biggest threats to the industry; it is also the reason that much of the potential within the industry remains untouched. In a country that is desperate to create sustainable avenues for job creation, this is a sad reality.

The maritime territory for South Africa sits at 1.5-million square kilometres, more than the 1.2-million square kilometres of landmass. This means that there are huge unexploited opportunities out there that could lead to great growth and development. Operation Phakisa has hardly been a success as of yet but President Cyril Ramaphosa has made mention of the Blue Economy and the ability it has to create great economic growth.

In order to grow the industry, the first step has to be better regulation of the industry. Great research efforts need to be put into what fish stock we have available and which fish there are a shortage of.

Sustainability is key to the industry as the country’s fish need to be sustainably harnessed in order to ensure that the industry is consistently functional. Many people in South Africa rely on the industry on an informal basis, which makes it even more baffling that more focus has not been placed on ocean economy.

Creating sustainable livelihoods is key to the future of the country’s marine life and, indeed, the future of the South African economy. The largely untapped market of aquafarming needs to be taken advantage of.

It is not only South Africa but Africa as a whole that has missed out on the economic growth opportunities.

Recently, the organiser and founder of the Africa Blue Economy Forum (ABEF), Leila Ben Hassen, said, “There needs to be more awareness of the blue economy and a realisation of how important it is to the future of Africa. Governments are beginning to understand this and beginning to implement policies but it still needs the private sector to grasp this and to look at how they can work in partnership with governments and other organisations to make this succeed.

“Collaboration is necessary to make this work and deliver huge benefits for the continent enabling it to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. ABEF 2019 will begin to lay the foundations for this collaboration process.”

On a continent in need of an improved economy, this is an opportunity that simply cannot afford to be missed. Seventy per cent of African nations is coastal while over 80% of the continents’ imports and exports are done via sea transportation.

According to a report done by the University of Stellenbosch in 2017, aquaculture has become the fastest-growing agricultural production system in the world over the last 40 years. A reported annual growth rate of 7.8% is quite an astonishing figure.

The benefits and risks of aquaculture

Aquaculture presents vast economic opportunities, however, there are certain risks too, especially when the process is not controlled and regulated.

The University of Stellenbosch’s 2017 report states the benefits and risks.


  • Job creation (community improvement),
  • Increased revenue on numerous levels,
  • The attraction of local investment,
  • An increase in scientific knowledge and technology,
  • An emphasis on the protection of coastal waters from pollution, especially in the case of molluscs and seaweed culture,
  • It can provide a viable socio-economic alternative to capture fisheries, especially in overfished municipal waters,
  • A reduction in fishing pressure on certain wild stocks through aquaculture,
  • An increase in fish supplies,
  • The conservation of social structures,
  • Improved infrastructure in rural areas,
  • A cheap source of animal protein for the masses in rural areas, including those countries with no access to the sea,
  • Can be developed on land, which is no longer suitable for farming and/or on land in conjunction with other farming systems, or major water bodies, whose natural productivities have shown signs of decline from overexploitation or environmental degradation,
  • Can be operated either on a small scale, at a low cost, and utilising family/community labour, or on a large scale, at a high cost, and utilising more machines and fewer hands and, in both instances, fulfil the objectives for which it was established,
  • Can be small or large scale, can be carried out on land-based sites and in fresh, brackish or saline environments, can make use of extensive, semi-intensive or intensive methods for a great variety of culture species with different economic values,
  • Products can be sold fresh or processed in either the domestic or the international markets.


  • Conflict with other users of water bodies such as lobstermen, fishermen or migrating fish,
  • Excess pressure on wild stocks used to create high-protein feed pellets,
  • The amplification and transfer of disease and parasites to wild fish populations,
  • The pollution of water systems with excess nutrients (fish feed and wastes), chemicals and antibiotics,
  • The compromise of native gene pools if farmed fish and native species interbreed,
  • Can threaten the livelihood of fishermen,
  • An unpredictable enterprise for small local communities due to its susceptibility to severe weather, predators, disease and global competition,
  • Can compromise the aesthetic beauty of the coastline,
  • Environmental damage, which enhances the risk of import bans from the EU and the US because of environmental concerns,
  • Conflict over resource usage and the creation of a resource sink,
  • Limited attention to the social role of aquaculture and inadequate support to smallholder farmers,
  • Trade restrictions, if not targeted at achieving sustainable practices, can limit economic development and local food supply,
  • Restricted domestic and intra-regional markets, the dearth of market information; restrictive trade barriers, challenges to implementing international standards, including the lack of support mechanisms to achieve this goal.
  • Fortunately, the risks can all be managed and, more importantly, be avoided by properly regulating the industry and using modern technology.
  • The industry is already an exceptionally fast grower and is showing no signs of letting up anytime soon but commercialisation brings its own set of challenges.
  • It is often skewed towards big farmers or companies who have the financial resources while those who farm on a small scale are left to fend for themselves. It is also a largely male-dominated industry.
  • Many poor households rely on fish, not only as a source of protein but for income too, especially in developing countries.

The aquaculture industry, blue economy or ocean economy, whichever you prefer to call it, requires drastic attention and changes in South Africa if it is to ever fulfil its potential. Plans are afoot, which will hopefully be driven by both the public and private sector. It needs to be an inclusive industry that benefits all.


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