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Fishmeal factory emissions in Hout Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

For years, bad odours plagued some residents and businesses while other, poorer people, wanted to keep the factory running for the sake of jobs. The factory eventually closed down in 2019.


In 1958, the Oceana Group, one of South Africa’s largest fishing companies, established a fishmeal factory called Lucky Star in Hout Bay, a small rural fishing village [1, 5, 8]. Fishmeal is a protein rich powder, which is produced by cooking, pressing, drying, and milling raw fish in industrial boilers [8]. Fishmeal is used as an ingredient in animal and aquaculture feed. It is also used as a fertilizer [5]. For decades, Hout Bay residents have reported increasing health effects from strongly smelling factory emissions including headaches, nausea, dizziness, red/itchy eyes, insomnia, and sinus conditions [15]. The smell also had dire consequences for the local tourist economy, with many lodges and resorts reporting significant financial losses. For instance, Suegne Thomson, owner of the Seacliffe Lodge guest house, said that every year the smell from the factory cost her about R20,000 [5]. In 2013, there was also controversy over low-income housing projects being built in the vicinity of the factory despite health concerns [1].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Fishmeal factory emissions in Hout Bay, Western Cape, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Western Cape
Location of conflict:Hout Bay
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Other industries
Specific commodities:Fish
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The factory produces fish meal and fish oil from pelagic fish species (redeye herring and anchovy). The production season runs from January to November (about 330 days) and the factory has the capability to operate 24 hours a day seven days a week. In practice, however, the factory operates intermittently during the season depending on fish availability, location of fishing grounds and variable weather conditions. In response to the rising levels of stakeholder discontent directed at the odour associated with fish meal production, production at the Hout Bay plant has, over the past three years, been throttled to only 60 days per year. The odour associated with the production of fish meal is unavoidable. It is generated when the fish is cooked in a process similar to domestic pressure cooking and when the fish is dried in a process similar to tumble drying. All air and vapours released in the production process are contained and treated with the aid of sea water scrubbing, chemical scrubbing and gas incineration. The factory employs the most advanced odour abatement technology of any fishmeal factory in Southern Africa and the best technology available globally [8].

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2014
End of the conflict:01/01/2019
Company names or state enterprises:Oceana Group from South Africa
Relevant government actors:Department of Public Works
Department of Environmental Affairs
City of Cape Town
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Residents’ Association of Hout Bay
Western Cape South African Communist Party (SACP)
Hout Bay Civic Association
Fresh Air for Hout Bay
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Fostering a culture of peace
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Although there were many valid arguments from pro-Lucky Star and anti-smell groups, the issue was not about the factory needing to shut down but rather eliminating the smell while still keeping people's jobs. The protesting caused community divisions, but in the end the factory stayed open for the next few years and kept working on reducing the smell. Both the smell issue and job issue have been resolved peacefully because the factory shut down anyway and its employees were transferred elsewhere. Oceana will also build a school for the small-scale fishers.
Sources & Materials

[1] IOL. Fishy fumes in Hout Bay (Kinnear 2015)
[click to view]

[2] Cape Town Etc. Foul-smelling fishmeal factory closes in Hout Bay (Dordley 2020)
[click to view]

[3] Sentinel News. The stink continues (Harvey 2017)
[click to view]

[4] Fishing Industry News. Hout Bay fishmeal plant closes but gap to be filled (2020)
[click to view]

[5] IOL. Big stink over Hout Bay fish factory (Villette 2014)
[click to view]

[6] IOL. Hout Bay fishmeal factory in catch-22 (Bamford 2016)
[click to view]

[7] GroundUp. Keep fish factory open, demand Hout Bay residents (Maregele 2015)
[click to view]

[8] News24. Oceana outlines its Hout Bay history (2015)
[click to view]

[9] Smells Fishy. Fresh Air for Hout Bay (last accessed 12 July 2020)
[click to view]

[10] eNCA. Jobs saved as Hout Bay fishmeal factory remains open (2015)
[click to view]

[11] Dittke. Hout Bay factory to improve fish smell (2015)
[click to view]

[12] News24. Union to oppose Hout Bay fishing factory closure (le Cordeur 2015)
[click to view]

[14] Politics Web. Hout Bay is not just a wealthy white enclave (Ehrenreich 2015)
[click to view]
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[15] Video: Ike Moriz unites Hout Bay residents to protest in song: Lucky Star ain’t what you are (2015)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update13/07/2020
Conflict ID:5129
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