The Oceana Fishmeal Factory in Hout Bay has invested R11 million to update its chemical scrubbing technology to tackle the odour which had residents up in arms, and almost resulted in its closure. But its chief executive Francois Kuttel made it very clear that Hout Bay would not have fresh-smelling air. “Let me be categorical here, unfortunately, nothing we are going to do will stop the smell. The technology simply does not exist,” he said. In August, the Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB) group complained about the smell coming from the factory. This led to a decrease in production levels and almost resulted in the factory’s closure. On Tuesday, the Oceana’s operating lease was extended at the CCMA from one to five years. However, FAHB says the odour had a negative impact on everyday life. Of Oceana’s R11m investment, Kuttel said: “This is in addition to a R50m investment in odour abatement technology over the last 15 years. “This further R11m is to update our chemical-scrubbing technology, which was installed in 1996. This will ensure the scrubber is operating at maximum efficiency and in line with international best practice,” he said. Kuttel said the company would also institute a trial period for an alternative chemical to be used in the scrubber as recommended by the City. “Oceana is also investing in technology which will facilitate phase separation and thereby further optimise the production process. “Oceana will continue to keep the lines of communication open with concerned members of the community, and will continue to research and invest in new odour abatement technology that is proven to be more effective or suitable.” He stressed that it must be noted that while the company does everything possible to minimise emissions, it cannot completely eliminate the smells associated with fishmeal production.

The history

OCEANA established the fish meal factory (FMF) in Hout Bay in 1958 after the village was first connected to the national electricity grid. At that time Hout Bay was a small fishing and rural agricultural village, and the majority of the residents relied on the fishing industry to provide employment. The FMF is located in a proclaimed fishing harbour within the legislated Hout Bay industrial zone.

The factory produces fish meal and fish oil from pelagic fish species (redeye herring and anchovy). These type of fish, which are not suitable for direct human consumption, are listed on the SASSI green list, which means that they are the most sustainable choice, they have well-managed populations and the species is able to handle the current fishing pressure.

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 production process of fish meal and fish oil

Fishmeal is a protein rich powder, which is produced by cooking, pressing, drying and milling of raw fish. This is done by using steam, which is generated in industrial boilers. Fish oil is produced by separating the oil from the water, which is liberated after the cooking process. Apart from the odour minimisation process, none of these are chemical processes.

The unpleasant odours associated with production

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.

Over the past 15 years, Oceana has invested in excess of R50m of investment into odour minimisation technology, as well as to improve processing technology and minimise emissions. As required by the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act, the facility has adopted the best practice for odour abatement management and is the only fishmeal plant in South Africa to currently be granted a final Atmospheric Emissions Licence (AEL).