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 . Fishmeal is used as an ingredient in animal and aquaculture feed. It is also used as a fertilizer . 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 . 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 . In 2013, there was also controversy over low-income housing projects being built in the vicinity of the factory despite health concerns .
In response to rising pollution concerns, political science Ph.D and sustainable development consultant Kiara Worth founded Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB) in 2014, a community interest group that investigated why Oceana’s factory was producing such a bad smell with the goal of finding an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable solution for all through collaboration and dialogue [3, 9, 12]. Worth and the FAHB met with Oceana’s directors to offer to work together towards a solution. Oceana consistently argued no technology existed to reduce the smell, so FAHB created a community engineering group to verify such claims and conduct its own air quality and emissions evaluations in correspondence with the City of Cape Town to obtain official records and documents and understand legislation. FAHB also facilitated public campaigns and encouraged people affected by the smell to use Oceana’s official complaints mechanism, to understand how many people were affected and in what way .
After consultation with FAHB, commissioning independent studies, and more, Oceana invested R50m in odor abatement technology . Over 1,000 members of the Hout Bay Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association also lobbied and submitted a petition to the city to conduct independent risk assessments of health hazards in 2015 and either relocate the factory or cease emitting foul odors and polluted substances. The residents’ association also proposed amendments to the city’s air quality management laws. The emissions tests results were that Lucky Star was emitting hydrogen sulphide, a toxic substance, but within legal limits set by the Department of Environmental Affairs . The FAHB was not convinced, however, and began gathering data and documentation on health and business impacts. “Oceana’s atmospheric emissions licence comes up for renewal in November this year, and that will require the company to engage in a public participation process. What we aim to do is use this documentation to paint a clear picture for the community on what the true impact of the factory is,” Worth said .
On August 14, 2015, however, Oceana announced its proposed closure owing to a 240% increase in complaints making the factory no longer viable . As they state on their website, “Over the past few years, residents have lodged complaints regarding the odour, but during the last year the level of complaints escalated quite significantly, despite reduced volumes being processed in Hout Bay. This resulted in an increased vigilance by the local authorities with consequent increased audits and inspections … and a significantly negative impact on the financial viability of the business” . Yet as Worth countered, “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”  … “FAHB never advocated for the closure of the factory … They didn’t mention that they had recently purchased a US-based fishing company through a R4.6 billion deal and were looking to consolidate local operations to more effectively pursue international interests. They also didn’t mention their 18% increase of operating profit in 2013 to the tune of almost R900 million” . Furthermore, she claimed, “I understand that Oceana employees 92 people from the Hangberg community, as well as the argument that generations of people from the community have been involved in the fishing industry. But this is not about fishing, it is about fish meal processing. Some 800 tons of oily fish are processed for 180 days a year, and 80 percent of that is for the international market. Huge profits are being made by Oceana, the company that benefits. You always hear that Oceana employs half the population of Hangberg, but it is only 92 people. In reality, that is less than one percent of the population, while the rest of the community is being held hostage by the odour from the factory. If the City was able to transform the harbour area, it would create many more employment opportunities” .
The community was then divided over the potential economic impacts. The Hout Bay Civic Association (HBCA) gathered 1,200 signatures protesting the impending closure for fears of unemployment in the community . As HBCA secretary Roscoe Jacobs argued, “there were so many more pertinent issues affecting the area. We have so much unemployment and people who don’t even have food to put on the table” . Local herbalist Xoma Aob also added that most of the complaints were not from locals, who have been living with the smell for years, but rather tourists that bought land . A meeting was held with representatives from the Food and Agricultural Workers Union (FAWU), calling for working class people to unite against the closure of the factory and to insist on a tripling of production . Community members brought up concerns about existing race and class inequalities and their vulnerability to income loss, calling out “the champagne and caviar crowd of Hout Bay” for “systematically pushing out the working class” .
On September 11, 2015, about 100 people led by FAWU marched through the streets of Cape Town against the possible closure of Oceana’s Hout Bay Fishmeal Factory, singing and banging drums on the road to the the Civic Centre and the Oceana Group’s head offices. Protesters then submitted a memorandum to mayor Patricia de Lille and Oceana CEO Francois Kuttel asking for the factory to remain open . The memorandum stated that “the accusations of violations of environmental regulations stems from the complaints by a small minority with interests in gentrifying the poor out of Hout Bay” . FAWU Secretary Katishi Masemola said the closure of the factory would result in “severe socio-economic setbacks” for the poor in Hout Bay. “These workers have families that depend on their wages … The complaints are by the rich minority who have just come into the area and want to enjoy the views of Hout Bay alone” . In response to the mobilizations, on November 3, 2015, Oceana agreed to keep its factory open and provide guaranteed work for two days for every week of the year, as well as double the number of production days . Moreover, Oceana invested R11 million in updating its chemical scrubbing technology to reduce odors, though repeated that it would be impossible to completely eliminate the smell .
Regardless, since January 2019, Lucky Star stopped its production and redistributed its employees following a revision of its long term strategy, though Oceana never made a public statement explaining why. Over the next months, plant equipment was moved out, and the factory was dismantled . Oceana instead invested in a R25 million plan to build the Oceana Maritime Academy providing training about commercial fishing, especially for small-scale fishers, that was planned to be finished by the end of April 2020 .