Namibia has a brand-new research vessel, the €35-million RV Mirabilis, which will operate as a floating fish stock research station.
Built in Finland, it has been officially handed over to the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR).
The building of the new ship was commissioned in March last year, with production beginning at STX Finland’s Rauma Shipyard in August.
The RV Mirabilis measures 62 m in length and provides accommodation for 44 crew members and research personnel.
According to the MFMR, the Ministry’s intention is to help the fishing sector, marine and inland, become a leading contributor towards Namibia’s economy, with the new vessel assisting in determining fish volumes in the country’s waters. The Marine Advisory Council will then consult with government on the total allowable catch for the various fish species.
The RV Mirabilis has recently undergone sea trials in Finland, which entailed commissioning and testing of all equipment onboard, and now flies the Republic of Namibia’s flag.
The vessel was expected to arrive in Namibia at the end of July.
The RV Mirabilis is expected to replace the RV Welwitschia, which was a donation by Japan in 1993, explains MFMR resource management director Graca D'Almeida.
However, since the RV Welwitschia is not very large, the Ministry had to use commercial vessels to conduct swept area and acoustics surveys in deep waters.
The ministry also has another research vessel, the RV !Anichab, used for environmental surveys of the upwelling area around Lϋderitz.
The RV Mirabilis, which is considerably larger that these two vessels, will be big enough to host oceanographers and various researchers, which will enable multidisciplinary surveys, thus saving time and money.
The RV Mirabilis is equipped with three oceanographic laboratories on deck three, adds D’Almeida.
There is a main lab where water sampling and other tests are done, a chemical laboratory and an analysis laboratory for phytoplankton and zooplankton research.
The vessel also has a fish handling area and a fish sampling laboratory on deck.
The acoustic laboratory on deck five is equipped with a seapath, a Simrad EK60 split beam echosounder for hydro-acoustic biomass determination, a Simrad SX90 sonar for side detection of fish shoals, a Simrad EM710 for accurate bottom profiling and a Simrad ITI trawl sonar.
Fish species the Mirabilis will survey include two species of hake on the shelf and upper slope in Namibian waters.
Three types of vessels (freezer trawlers, wet fish trawlers and long-liners) operate in the hake fishery.
Swept-area biomass surveys for hakes are conducted every year to obtain an index of abundance, determine the geographical distribution and collect biological information from the stock.
Namibia has some of the most productive fishing grounds in the world, based on the Benguela current, one of four eastern boundary upwelling systems in the world. These systems support rich populations of fish, which form the basis for the Namibian marine fisheries sector.
Namibia’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone commercial biomass contain about 20 different species consisting primarily of small pelagic species (pilchard, anchovy, horse mackerel and mackerel) and lobster along the shallower onshore waters on the continental shelf, as well as large pelagic species, including adult mackerel, demersal hake and other deep-sea species (monkfish, sole and crab) in the waters further offshore.
Out of the 20 fish species commercially exploited in Namibia, eight species are regulated through total allowable catch regimes.
Resources available in quantity for export are hake, horse mackerel, rock lobsters, deep sea red crab, monkfish and sardine. The horse mackerel is the dominating species in terms of volume in the Namibian waters.
Hake products are of good quality and increasingly in demand in Europe and other international markets for the catering and retail industries. However, European buyers often demand that fish stock determination takes place before purchasing fish from abroad.
The marine fisheries sector is a major contributor to Namibia’s national economy.
In 2005 the sector contributed $372-million to gross domestic product, compared with $97-million in 1996.
The fishing industry has grown to the extent that it is currently Namibia’s second biggest export earner of foreign currency after mining, with 90% of national output marketed for export.