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Archive for May, 2011

The first abalone management working group meeting for the year was held on 26 May 2011. Attended by the abalone zonal representatives and departmental officials, it emerged during the course of the meeting that fisheries compliance remained the most problematic. Rather, as one zonal representative put it, there in fact is no compliance at all and where fisheries control officers were seen (at least in the Buffels Bay area) they were always talking to or helping known abalone poachers.
The department’s muted response to the raft of allegations and examples of compliance failures was that it was developing a comprehensive integrated fisheries compliance strategy! Another representative noted that like everything else the strategy would stay in the boardroom. And that is true especially since the department does not have the financial resources to implement any effective compliance strategy, the industry was never asked to contribute to the development of the strategy and neither does DAFF have the support and trust of right holders.
The department’s refrain that right holders must “work with” and “partner with” the department was rightly scoffed at. The representatives repeated example after example of reports of poaching submitted to the department but to date none have been followed up on or investigated.
There is little doubt that the department’s direct financial interest in large scale abalone poaching to fund its coffers clouds its role as a regulator and protector of our resources.
The representatives present at the meeting noted significant concerns with compliance officers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of the law (as this blog has noted previously), a growing sense that fishery officers are more concerned with the absolute mundane such as the colour and size of lettering on vessels than with size of fish caught etc (as this would clearly require more work and understanding of the law and permit conditions) and the comical state of resources at the disposal of officers. In particular, some officers are so incompetent that when they arrive at slipways to monitor and weigh landings (if they bother arriving at all), they forget to ensure that the scale batteries are charged. The ensuing delays seriously threaten the value of the abalone.
Scales purchased just 12 months ago have been irreparably broken, which results in either officers bringing broken scales to slipways or none at all. The Department confirmed that it has ordered more scales (but it would help to also employ competent staff who don’t break the scales!).
Finally and perhaps most worrying was the continuing number of abalone poaching incidences. Two examples provided by representatives showed the serious extent of poaching. The first has been reported to the department for years but repeatedly ignored. Approximately 50 poachers launch from Pearly Beach on a regular basis with each diver known to harvest no less than 30kg of flesh weight (100kg of whole weight) on each trip. If one estimates that they fish 3 times a month on average (considering that they may not fish at all during a bad winter month but may fish almost daily during good summer months), this one group could harvest about 180 tons of abalone illegally on an annual basis. A smaller group of 20 poachers operates at Buffels Bay. Using similar assumptions, they could illegally harvest 70 tons annually. So just two groups who have been given free reign by DAFF to poach, are taking more than twice the legal TAC.
And DAFF refuses to do anything about it.
Given the shocking levels of mismanagement, the lack of fisheries and institutional knowledge and increasing unhappiness of the industry (big, small and artisinal) with the fisheries branch and the (absent) Minister of Fisheries, we believe that the only way to arrest the terminal decline of fisheries management in our country is to invoke section 78 of the Marine Living Resources Act.
Section 78 of the Marine Living Resources Act makes explicit provision for the assignment of ministerial powers and functions to provincial MEC’s. We hold the view that the current Minister should urgently consider the assignment of her fisheries management powers and functions to the Western Cape government (we certainly would not recommend any assignment to the Eastern Cape which is effectively a failed state) in so far as –
  • governance and administration of fisheries in the territorial waters of the Western Cape is concerned;
  • the management of fish processing, compliance, trade and general management of fisheries in Western Cape based harbours and on vessels and in factories operating out of the Western Cape.
Essentially this proposal seeks to save our most important and valuable inshore fisheries (both commercial and recreational) from complete collapse which is where they are fast heading under the incompetent management of the Department of Fisheries. Just consider the dire state of inshore rock lobster (compounded by the Department’s open access interim relief project), abalone, line fish, oysters, trek nets…).
At the heart of the collapse of our inshore fisheries is a combination of factors (ANC cadre deployment, ill-conceived populist policies such as the subsistence fisheries policy which seeks to take fisheries management back to the previous century – literally and critically a lack of any policy or vision by the ruling ANC on fisheries – their manifestos and policy documents are silent on fisheries). An assignment of powers and functions to manage fisheries, fish farming and fisheries-related activities to the Western Cape government would essentially remove these key threats.
The assignment will be psychologically easier if one accepts that fisheries is irrelevant to national socio-economy but it is of critical relevance to the socio-economic well-being of the Western Cape. After-all it has been estimated that at least 80% of all commercial fisheries activity (catching, processing, marketing, operational management etc) occurs in the Western Cape. The Western Cape further accounts for perhaps 90% of all marine-based recreational fishing activity.
Fisheries management is currently at his nadir; it can’t hurt to try an assignment as we suggest here. If the DA-led provincial administration stuff it up (and frankly can it get any worse?), at least the ANC could use this as their campaign in the next provincial government elections in 2014.

Another Unlawful Arrest for DAFF

Yes, it is sounding like the proverbial stuck record but DAFF can be counted on ill-informed and just bad decision-making almost like clock-work.
On 13 May 2011 the skipper of a foreign flagged vessel landed his fishing vessel at Cape Town harbour and offloaded the vessel’s fish and took on stores and bunkers as per the foreign vessel licence and permit issued under the Marine Living Resources Act. As is increasingly the norm, there were no fishery control officers in sight to monitor or record any landings (not that foreign fish landings are required to be in the presence of an FCO).
The catch logs and the separate cold store reports confirmed that what was declared was in order. However, without warning on 19 May 2011, the skipper of the vessel was summarily arrested, detained, his passport confiscated and then released on payment of bail. The alleged “charge” was that the vessel offloaded fish to a cold store not listed on the permit and accordingly, breached the permit conditions which are set out in Annexure B to the permit conditions.
It must be noted that at this stage, the vessel owner had retained the services of a leading Cape Town law firm and Feike was subsequently contacted for further advice.
What became immediately apparent was that the skipper was arrested on a bogus charge – there is no legal obligation under the MLRA, the regulations or the permit conditions that the skipper or any person must stipulate where the fish is to be offloaded. Despite this rather simple observation (assuming the FCO could read … and we know all about assumptions…) being pointed out to the DAFF officials concerned, they seemed unperturbed. The arrest continued!
In the end, the senior public prosecutor was approached by the vessel agent’s attorney and the case was withdrawn because there was no law that was breached.
Feike has advised the vessel owner to pursue a damages claim against the Minister of DAFF and each of the officials responsible for this unlawful and ill-advised arrest and detention of the skipper.

MINISTER MAKES R25 MILLION PROMISES

Feike has reported that the Minister of Fisheries made a series of sudden appearances in local fishing communities brandishing R25 million in cheques for fisheries projects. Co-incidentally, her appearance from obscurity happened days before the 2011 Local Government Elections.

The Minister is now on record as stating that her R15 million project cheque give to the Gansbaai community is intended for an abalone hatchery and abalone cage ranching project (involving a further R10 million) which will employ in the region of 300 people and turn fishers in fish farmers!
Just when you think this Minister cant make more ridiculous and populist statements, she proves you wrong! Is she happy to deceive the desperately poor fishers and members of these communities or does she just mouth off without question the nonsense fed to her by her officials? Either way, her comments are shocking.
Firstly, fishermen are not fish farmers, let alone farmers of abalone, which is a highly complex, high risk science (especially in the Overberg). Further, hatcheries generally require highly skilled personnel such as hatchery managers and technicians and a group of low skilled employees who are responsible for sorting and general maintenance. Where do fishers fit into the hatchery employment structure? And secondly, could she please explain how she plans on creating 300 jobs based on her department’s investment of R10 million in ranching and R15 million in a hatchery? We can confidently state that like her government’s commitment of creating 500 000 jobs last year (when 1 million were in fact lost), the Minister’s “300 jobs” promise is unfortunately more fairytales coupled with a bit of vote-buying.

MINISTER OF DAFF GIVES AWAY R15M CHEQUE

With a week to go to the local government elections, the Minister of Fisheries (ANC) popped up out of the blue to hand a whopping R15 million of taxpayers’ money to the “Gansbaai Community”.
Most people we spoke to from the fishing community of Gansbaai did not know about the cheque, who the “Gansbaai Community” is or what the intended purpose of the R15 million hand-out was. There is no press statement explaining this hand-out of taxpayers’ money but it can be safe to assume that considering the Minister’s anathema to fisheries management (remember that this Minister has never bothered to address South Africa’s commercial fishing industry of 3000 quota holders who employ more than 40 000 people since her appointment in 2009), her sudden appearance with a R15 million freebie (is it going to support tik habits, abalone poaching, who knows) appears to be nothing more than an abuse of power and public funds.
And we understand that on 12 May the Minister continued with her generosity by handing out R10 million cheques for the Kleinmond community and others.
But of course using taxpayers’ money and civil servants to fund the ANC’s election campaign is unlawful. The Minister will no doubt deny this abuse but once again the ubiquitous Facebook ensures that the truth will prevail! The Minister’s director of “stakeholder liaison”, Mr Desmond the civil servant, cadre leaching on the public purse and of course ANC Military Veterans secretary Stevens thankfully provides us with the actual and honest reason for the handouts of public funds.
His Facebook page entry for today records the following pertaining to events on 12 May 2011 –
“Cmde Tina Joemat-Pettersson adressing thousands of fisher men nd women in Struisbaai, launching R10m projects in overberg. ANC leads ANC together building better communities”

So here we have a “civil servant” and a “minister” unashamedly using our taxes to further the political election strategy of the ANC. And they don’t give a damn either by posting the fact on Facebook. Banana Republic anyone?
On 19 April 2011, the Minister of Fisheries addressed the National Assembly on her department’s annual budget vote. Of the department’s total budget of over R4 billion, the fisheries branch is allocated R324 million for the 2010/2011 financial year. Although less than 10% of the global departmental budget, the allocation may signal a relative return to health for the marine living resources fund as this amount is slightly less than the 2004/2005 operational budget. However, it is unclear from the budget vote if the R324 million includes staff salaries – if it does, then the MLRF remains in a desperate downward spiral as salaries would consume at least 50% of the operational budget, which will explain the parlous state of management, the chaotic administration and the lack of strategic fisheries compliance, particularly in our offshore waters.
The budget vote also confirms a Minister and her senior staff to be completely out of touch with the fishing sector. We all know that despite having been appointed as the Minister of Fisheries in June 2009, this Minister has carried her title in name only having never met or briefed either the fishing industry or her staff at Foretrust on her policy objectives and intentions!
Perhaps she has neither objectives nor intentions for the successful management of the sector. Her knowledge base of the industry is near zero. Contemplate this quote from her budget speech-

“I am pleased to announce that our increasingly scarce sea resources, under huge international threat, will be better protected by having declared 9% of our coastline as prohibited zones, and up to 3% of our offshore zone as no-fishing areas.”

Firstly of course our sea resources are hardly under “huge international threat”. Rather, our marine resources are under greatest threat from extensive mis-management, disastrous (populist) policy statements (such as the draft small-scale fisheries policy) and the abandonment of inshore fisheries management by DAFF. Just check which fish stocks are either overexploited, subject to open access unregulated fishing or have collapsed and all of them are inshore stocks like abalone, lobsters, some 50 species of linefish, east coast rock lobsters, oysters, sharks etc.
Secondly, we don’t have any “prohibited zones” – there is no such thing in our fisheries laws. We assume the Minister is talking about marine protected areas and in this regard just over 20% of our coastline is protected by MPA’s while we still do not have any offshore MPA’s in place! Where the Minister gets her stats from remains a mystery. Maybe the lack of any institutional knowledge and professional fisheries managers around her?
Perhaps of greater concern is that this budget vote is silent on critical management issues such as the performance review process for which tax payers paid more than R9 million two years ago, the lack of any indication as to the allocation of commercial fishing rights in a host of fisheries where rights are due to expire in 2013, how large-scale poaching in the inshore sectors such as the interim relief lobster sector will be curbed, the future of vulnerable fisheries such as abalone and hake long line, which are just two of the most transformed and empowered high value fisheries or how the administrative chaos afflicting the issuing of permits and collection of levies will be addressed.
Here’s hoping that before the next budget vote, this Minister will have taken the time to meet with her staff at DAFF and with quota holders in the 22 commercial fisheries in this country that employ over 40 000 people and contribute substantially to black economic empowerment and regional socio-economic well-being.

CLUSTERS C & D PERFORMANCE REVIEW NOTICE

The fisheries department announced in April that it had completed the analysis of the performance-related data submitted by the cluster C and D fisheries in 2009 – yes it was all the way back in 2009! In a rather complex worded letter for these sectors, the DAFF notes that as the results of the performance review do not constitute “decisions”, they are not reviewable and instead only once “decisions” are taken to act in terms of section 28 of the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA), can right holders invoke their respective rights to appeal or review decisions taken, as the case may be.
It has been brought to our attention that the performance review results for a number of right holders contain substantial errors. In addition, as these results are now completely out-of-date and largely irrelevant, right holders will have to be vigilant and ensure that all errors are addressed as there is little doubt that as the DAFF continues to display the hallmarks of a failed government regulator, these outdated and error-filled analyses will harm future quota applications.