FAHB Public Statement:
Reflections on the proposed closure of the Oceana fishmeal factory in Hout Bay
On Friday 14 August 2015, we learned that Oceana is considering closing its Hout Bay fishmeal factory. Knowing this would directly impact 98 employees, Oceana is currently negotiating with staff before making its final decision and is offering alternative positions at various locations, including relocation allowances. Further details have not yet been disclosed.
In its statement, Oceana says a main reason for the proposed closure is the growing number of odour complaints from the community. Oceana maintains it has invested R50-million in technology and reduced plant production by 40% (impacting the viability of the plant) – to reduce the amount and occurrence of odours. Despite this, complaints have increased 240% in the past three years.
It is important to acknowledge that Oceana is a private industry aimed at providing the greatest profitability to its shareholders. Of course, Oceana has contributed significantly to the socio-economics of Hout Bay and provided substantial support to local institutions, both financially and in-kind. But these do not compare to the profits Oceana has earned in return.
In its 2014 Integrated Report, Oceana reported an operating profit of R879,6 million – an 18% increase from 2013. Group revenue was up 7%, 61% of which is attributed to canned fish and fishmeal production. Oceana also recently acquired US-based Daybrook Fisheries through a R4.6 billion deal with the express intention of establishing a platform to explore further initiatives globally.
It is unlikely that the increasing number of complaints from the community is the predominant factor for the proposed factory closure. More likely is that this is a financial decision on the part of Oceana, aiming to consolidate its operations to improve economic efficiencies and viability.
Oceana argues that to make the plant financially viable again, it would need to increase the current 60 days of production to 120-180 days annually. An increase in production days means an increase in odour frequency; this has consequences for the entire community and Hout Bay’s economy.
Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB), a community organisation aimed at eliminating the odour, has proactively communicated concerns to the City of Cape Town and is working with the City and Oceana to better understand the situation. FAHB has never supported the idea of the factory closing, but rather that the odour be eliminated, believing it negatively impacts life in the community and does not contribute to creating a positive environment for anyone.
And Hout Bay is in desperate need of a positive environment. Issues with crime, housing, water, sanitation, health care, and pollution stagnate the development of our community. Unless serious effort is made to change this, the situation will worsen.
The potential closure of the fishmeal factory offers a unique opportunity to rethink the development of Hout Bay, if looked at in context, and there are two options to consider.
Scenario 1: Fishmeal factory remains open
If the factory remains open, the number of production days would almost triple, meaning the odour would also triple in its duration. Employment levels at the factory would stay the same, as would current working conditions.
The negative impact of the odour on local businesses, however, would increase substantially. Numerous testimonies document losses suffered by business owners as a direct result of the odour, emphasising the “dire consequences” this brings for local business. An increase in odour duration would lead to an even greater loss – including jobs.
The increased odour would also increase health irritations and residents’ vulnerability to potential health risks. It would compromise our constitutional right to well-being.
The continued operation – and increased production – would not increase employment opportunities. Working conditions would not improve. Company profits would not be returned to local communities. On the contrary, there is potential for a decrease in employment, tourism and business opportunities, a decline in well-being, and a loss of social cohesion.
The odour does not and would not convey the notion of a ‘fishing village’, but rather of a dirty, industrialised town that is unpleasant to live in or be visited – the opposite of what Hout Bay and its people deserve.
The alternative then is to consider the closure of the factory.
Scenario 2: Fishmeal factory closure
The closure of the factory provides an opportunity to rethink the harbour in its entirety. The harbour is intrinsically connected to the character of Hout Bay and we need to investigate how to maximise benefits for local communities, while remaining sustainable for generations to come. We need a coherent harbour strategy.
To develop such a strategy we need to know:
- What are the ambitions of local communities?
- What businesses can provide the best employment, both in numbers and working conditions?
- What skills development is needed to supply those industries?
- What role can tourism play in increasing economic opportunities and supporting local entrepreneurship?
- How can the environment be protected?
- How can the rich history of our fishing village be maintained and used to attract investment and tourism?
These are not easy questions to answer, but we have a unique opportunity to do so, one that could greatly improve life for all in Hout Bay.
Of course, central to the closure of the factory would be the impact on 98 employees and their families. Factory workers have been fundamental to the growth of the community and for 57 years have been an integral part of Hout Bay society and culture. As a community, we need to first ensure those families are protected and their important story is told. Oceana has committed to providing alternative employment; we need to ensure this is done and continue to honour their role in our society.
A way forward
FAHB proposes that a comprehensive development plan be created for the Hout Bay harbour, based on sound social, economic and environmental research. This would require an inter-governmental approach including the participation of Public Works, Environmental Affairs, and Economic Development. Such an approach would compliment the move to increase the local management of harbours, with a particular focus on unleashing tourism potential.
It would also require the authentic participation of Hout Bay residents, following an inclusive and democratic process. We need to improve the cohesion between community groups, united in a collective vision of our community.
Through collaboration between local government and local communities, a strategic and integrated development plan can be created and implemented for the benefit of all.
FAHB has been consulting with community groups to share ideas and gather opinions. We are committed to moving forward with a long-term plan for our harbour, working collaboratively to bring positive change to our community.