World Fisheries Day Interview with the Chairperson of FishSA, Loyiso Phantshwa

World Fisheries Day Interview with the Chairperson of FishSA, Loyiso Phantshwa

Loyiso Phantshwa is 37 years old, an attorney in private practice and Chairperson of Fish South Africa. He has been an attorney for more than 10 years and has been chairing FishSA since July 2019. He holds a BA degree majoring in Politics & Industrial Relations, Sociology and Legal Theory, and an LLB from Rhodes University.

1. Greetings, Mr Loyiso Phantshwa. First, thank you for taking the time to sit with us for this interview, especially since the world is celebrating World Fisheries Day. To kick off the discussion, what are your favourite fish dish and your favourite fish restaurant?

I am not particular about my fish dishes, but if I had to choose, Hake, Kingklip and Monk would be at the top of my list. I like to try different restaurants, and I can’t think of endorsing just one. 

2. The South African Fishery Industry contributes reasonably well to our country's GDP. How does the industry practically contribute towards the South African economy?

The fishing industry is important for South Africa’s economy and job creation. There are, in excess, more than 28 000 direct jobs created by the industry, and these jobs are spread across coastal towns, often with little other economic activities. Fishing contributes about 5% to Western Cape economy’s GDP and just below 1% to the country’s GDP. It is not limited to Western Cape; all coastal provinces have varying fishing activities. Our industry has a strong export market to Europe (mainly South Europe), the United States, China, Asia and some African countries. It is also important as a source of nutrition even for the local consumers and further plays an important role in ensuring food security for the country. 

3. Globally, small-scale fisheries play a significant role in food security, poverty reduction and employment opportunities. In the past few years, small-scale fisheries have been excluded from the economy because commercial fishing businesses are in control of most of the market share. How do the South African government and stakeholders such as FSA help protect small fisheries from economic exclusion

The Commercial Industry is not an enemy of small-scale fisheries; in certain sectors, there has been collaboration which has seen some players helping to assist small-scale fisheries. However, in terms of the resource and operation, there is always going to be a divide, and there has to be a good management of the resource taking into account sustainability, job creation and the investment. Commercial fishing is industrial in nature and small scale is the opposite of that, and this divide is often confused. I cannot speak for the government, but I would like to believe that they know the importance of both these industries and understand that it is important to maintain co-existence. Small-scale is not excluded from fishing resources that are compatible with the nature of small-scale fishing. 

4. There has been growing concern that illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing has threatened the management and sustainability of the fishing industry. What are some of the techniques and tools utilised in South Africa to help manage and sustain our fishery industry?

We are fortunate in South Africa in a sense that our government understands the importance of preventing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The industry works well the Fisheries Branch as a custodian of the resources. We also put high standards on ourselves to ensure that we are part of world bodies that are committed to sustainable fishing and fishing processes. Our industry has accepted that it has responsibility to ensure that it self -regulates over and above the standing government regulation to ensure fishing occurs sustainably. I am sure government will also tell you that they are a signatory to a number of international convention on this very issue as well. 

5. Aquaculture is a growing trend in South Africa because of the demand for seafood. How would you describe the relationship between the government and aquaculture projects?

Aquaculture is an entirely different sector and separate from our industry as such I would rather not give direct views, even though some of our members have invested in that space. I am aware that the government and other important stakeholders have advocated for a structured development of this sector. 

6. As you know, we are celebrating World Fisheries Day today, and this year's theme is to take care of the environment. What does this day and theme mean to Fish SA

For FishSA we celebrate the World’s Fisheries Day and encourage everyone to recognise the role commercial fishing plays in job creation and food security. We also honour men and women who work often under challenging circumstances. 

7. With this country's youth unemployment crisis, how do The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and other stakeholders such as Fish SA motivate young people to participate in the industry and provide opportunities for them?

Our industry is always engaged in training and upskilling of the youth, in the last couple of years we have opened opportunities for young people to have internships with various fishing companies. We continue to partner with other stakeholders in identifying skills gaps and we are engaged in ensuring that adequate and suitable training together with opportunities to place the youth with some of our members. 

8. As Association Chairman of FSA, what would you say are your biggest challenges and your proudest moments?

I think we have been able to build a trusting relationship with our biggest stakeholder – the government and we able to play a crucial role in policy space and to place our industry at the centre especially during the difficult 2 years when the country was on lockdown due to Covid-19. The strength of our organisation also showed when we coordinated so many initiatives, from safety protocols at factory levels, engagements with government and other stakeholders such as the labour and customers were generally positive. One thing about South Africans in business is building and strengthening relationships, I found that nothing beats that even where there are differences, as there will also be, building these relationships and respecting is key. We also ran a food donation project for almost a year, our members opened their hearts when we asked them to assist many families when the hard lock down hit. We raised money and some companies donated tons of fish which we distributed to many soup kitchens in the townships. Our food parcel drive included Eastern Cape, KZN and Northern Cape. It was heart-warming for us to know that we made a lot of difference in people’s lives.

Going through the Fishing Rights Application Process (FRAP) in the last 3 years has been tough, together with the strain of Covid-19.

9. What advice would you give another Association Chairman with ambitions to influence and grow within their industry?

You need to confront issues head on and build consensus, do not shy away from listening to different voices, always try to build relations and above all work very hard and respect everyone. Of course you must have strength of conviction, take tough decisions and defend them but before that ensure that such decisions are for the benefit of the industry. 

10. What could we expect from FishSA for 2023?

The industry growing from strength to strength, good catches and for our industry to continue being internationally competitive.

11. Lastly do you have any last words for our audience?

Everyone has a responsibility to make things work for the good of the country in all the spheres of influence. If one’s sphere of influence is 5% they make sure they make as much positive influence exceeding that 5%. No opportunity is too small to make a positive difference. You do not need to be on top before driving that positive change, use what you have to make things work. South Africa is an incredible country and we must all recognise that we have a responsibility to make it better.