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Archive for August, 2013

DAFF’s Tantrum About Lobster Downgrade

On 25 August 2013, the fisheries department threw a complete hissy fit and tantrum about the WWF-SASSI decision to downgrade lobster from its green listing to its orange listing. This essentially means that SASSI no longer considers lobster a sustainable and well-managed fishery and that consumers should "think twice" about ordering South Africa's famed west coast rock lobster. 

There are just so many problems with this latest DAFF tantrum that its hard to list them all! First of all, the tantrum is so late! WWF-SASSI announced its decision to downgrade lobster back in May. Yes, 4 months ago! Feike carried the story noting the devastating impact this would have on small-scale fishermen in particular given that they rely on local sales of lobsters more than large operators who have the means to export most of their product to Hong Kong and China (where sustainability and responsible resource management are of zero concern). 

Did DAFF only read the WWF statement now, four months late? And dont forget that Food Lovers Market had already decided to take lobster off their shelves in April 2013. And Woolies is on track to do likewise. 

So why the tantrum now DAFF?

DAFF's belated tantrum directed at WWF is also misplaced. The reason for the downgrade is entirely DAFF's doing. DAFF may claim to have a recovery plan in place but the problem is that for the past two seasons, they have ignored it and instead bowed to populist pressure and kept the annual catch limits unchanged when the recovery plan and the department's own scientists demanded that the catch be reduced by between 6-9 % annually. Remember, that DAFF also lied publicly last year stating that its decision to keep the lobster TAC unchanged was supported by scientific and socio-economic "studies"  but when Feike demanded copies of these "studies" via the Promotion of Access to Information Act, the Fisheries Minister admitted in writing that these did not exist. 

So DAFF not only ignored its own recovery plan (two years straight), which is supported by the lobster industry, they then blatantly lied about existence of "studies" to justify the non-adherence to the recovery plan. So when DAFF says that it will abide by the recovery plan, who in their right minds and who is interested in responsible fisheries management will believe them? 

And lets not forget that DAFF continues to muddle around in the dark when it comes to fisheries compliance with (at best) compromised and untrained "fisheries monitors" and no compliance strategy to speak of. As a result, lobster poaching continues unabated. You can still freely buy illegally harvested lobster today along the west coast (Paternoster, Elands Bay, Lamberts Bay and Doring Bay) despite the season having closed on 30 June.

As we stated back in April and May 2013, the parlous state of the lobster resource is entirely DAFF's fault and doing. The WWF-SASSI is only doing what a responsible and reputable fisheries NGO ought to do - and that is to try and rescue lobster from ongoing governmental failure and mismanagement. 
Cooperatives cant be allocated a fishing right. Any cooperative that applies for a fishing right in September this year will not be eligible to lawfully hold a fishing right. The department's insistence that a cooperative can be granted a fishing right without an amendment to the MLRA is either just plain stupidity or appalling dishonesty. 

But the Department of Fisheries continues to lie to vulnerable fishing communities by encouraging them to spend substantial funds, time and energy in creating co-operatives knowing full-well that fishing rights may not be granted to these entities under the MLRA. There are many unscrupulous "consultants" and accountants happily feeding off desperate fishing communities urgently seeking to establish co-operatives.  

There cannot be a greater abuse of power and just plain dishonesty than for a government department aided and abetted by an equally dishonest fisheries minister to lead fishing communities down this garden path. 

What will they tell these communities when fishing rights are not allocated to their cooperatives or when a court of law intervenes in such an illegal allocation? 

The most recently published order paper for bills to be considered by Parliament confirms that the MLRA amendment bill is not on any of the order papers for the rest of the Parliamentary session. It cant be. Cabinet has not even considered and approved the amendment bill yet - despite the Fisheries Minister's public lie that the amendment bill was approved by Cabinet on 7 August 2013. As we have previously stated, given that 2014 is an election year, the amendment bill may only be considered by Parliament after the May / June 2014 General Elections, which could see the amendment bill passed during the middle of 2015. 

Our advice to communities along the coast that are prepared to listen to some honesty is to not waste time and money creating cooperatives. 

PC Calls for Probe into SAM Misplaced

The hapless and confused ANC-led Fisheries Portfolio Committee further embarrassed itself yesterday when it called for an investigation into Smit Amandla Marine's (SAM) management of the research and patrol vessels. 

The call is embarrassing because the committee has failed to do anything remotely constructive or to justify their grossly inflated salaries over the past 18 months since these vessels were handed to the Department of Fisheries by SAM. Instead, they have been happy to hear one fairytale after another about the state of readiness of the one or other vessel. The vessels appear to always be 80% ready! 

Lulu Johnson, the chairperson of the committee now alleges that the vessels are in serious disrepair! No. The man is truly insightful! The only problem for Lulu is that the disrepair has nothing to do with SAM but everything to do with the Navy and DAFF ... and his failure to act like a responsible parliamentarian and hold these departments accountable for the mess they have caused. Instead, Lulu did everything he could over the past 18 months to shield the Fisheries Minister and the department's comrade officials from accounting for the disaster we continue to face. 

What Lulu cant explain is why did he not immediately march his committee to Simonstown on Saturday 31 March 2012 to oversee the handing over of these vessels worth R1 billion. Had he done so, he would have no doubt witnessed the excellent condition that these vessels were in - hell they were working with engines running, insured and licensed to sail! SAM did not employ those geniuses we have at the Navy that were able to pump seawater into the fuel tanks and wreck the Africana! He would have also noticed that not a single senior manager from DAFF was present to receive these vessels but instead a couple of clueless Naval officers were present to receive vessels they had never before seen, inspected or probably even heard about! Has Lulu asked the Navy for their reports on each vessel recording what they received that Saturday in 2012 from SAM? 

Had Lulu and his committee then actually done a bit of work and "oversight" for which they are so handsomely paid, they would have noticed the polished brass on the Africana and its spotless and functioning laboratories. Of course the Africana has been stripped of all its brass fittings and attachments and the labs are a cesspool of filth, apparently overrun by rats. Apparently, even the cutlery was "removed" while under naval "care". 

What does Lulu say to these questions -

1. Why did the Navy or DAFF not officially report the parlous state of these vessels immediately when the vessels were handed over? Where are the handover reports for each vessel signed by SAM, the Navy and DAFF and dated 31 March 2012? What do these reports say? Lets see the photographs showing the serious disrepair we are told of. 

2. Why did his committee not oversee the hand-over of these vessels on 31 March 2012? Where were they on 31 March 2012? These vessels are public assets and as public representatives, Lulu and committee have a responsibility to ensure that these public assets are not destroyed. 

3. If the vessels were in such apparent disrepair and so thoroughly mismanaged by SAM, why did these vessels sail into port under their own steam and why were these vessels able to operate at sea before that? Can Lulu tell us how many days between April 2011 and March 2012 did each of the vessels spend in port because they were "broken" or unable to sail due to mechanical failure or mismanagement by SAM?  

4. Most pertinently, how does dear Lulu know that the vessels were in such "serious disrepair" when they were handed to the Navy on 31 March 2012, given that it took him and his committee until September to finally visit the vessels at Simonstown for the very first time, by which time these vessels were under the mismanagement of the Navy and DAFF for a full 7 months! Perhaps, Lulu can tell us how many times he and his committee had inspected these vessels between 2009 and 2012? Once?, Twice? Ten times? Never? If never, why did they fail to inspect these public assets and ensure they were being operated and managed responsibly? 

And then, let us not forget about that expensive Ernst and Young Report that the DAFF commissioned and initially used to confirm serious charges and allegations against SAM. But when the report was leaked and made public, it became clear that DAFF blatantly lied about its findings! After its leaking, DAFF suddenly abandoned Ernst & Young and canned the report! 

Has dear Lulu read the Ernst & Young Report? My guess is that his sudden call now for a "full-blown investigation" into SAM is clearly aimed at deflecting attention from the inevitable findings of the Public Protector who may very well be preparing to publish her report into the R800 million Sekunjalo / DAFF vessel tender debacle that resulted in the destruction of South Africa's R1 billion fleet of once fully operational and well-managed patrol and research vessels. 

Feike has requested that the DA, as the Official Opposition, commence an urgent and independent assessment of the state of these vessels. The DA's Pieter van Dalen and Annette Steyn have confirmed that they will support such an independent assessment as the DAFF cannot be trusted. 

The DAFF: A case of Lies, Lies and more Lies

Over the past 18 months or so, the Minister and her department of fisheries have addressed the Portfolio Committee on Fisheries and the media on the status of the research and patrol vessels and various other crises affecting the department, including its farcical rights allocation process, a number of times.

During all of these addresses, they spewed forth timeframes, timetables and commitments with none having been met or adhered to. It is one thing to be so grossly incompetent that one cannot comprehend the nature of the commitment being made or promise being promised; it is another thing to lie and then lie again and again to cover up the lie. 

The Department of Fisheries, led by the repeated number of incompetent and unprofessional and equally dishonest acting DDG's over the past 18 months or so, has been guilty of both - gross incompetence and dishonesty. 

Feike has repeatedly pointed out case after case where the Fisheries Department and its Minister are just dishonest in what they say - whether to the Portfolio Committee or to the media. 

We have repeatedly been promised that the vessels will be at sea by the end of this other month, which never materialises. All that is done is a new date is set. Do you realise how incompetent a manager must be to make such commitments without fully appreciating whether the commitment can be achieved? Or the manager is blatantly dishonest. 

The same applied to the fishing rights allocation process. The Minister and her staff have spun so many untruths here, it is hard to keep up with and correct. 

Then we had the Minister herself telling the public on 12 August that the MLRA Amendment Bill was approved by Cabinet when it was not! 

Now most recently, the Rapport newspaper reports that Desmond Stevens, the acting DDG of Fisheries, has been caught out in another series of lies to the Portfolio Committee about the status of the R100 million tilapia farm in the Free State province [by the way, R100 million for a tilapia farm must make it the most expensive tilapia farm around considering its production rate! We wonder how that money was spent?]. 

The point is, lying to or deceiving Parliament and the South African public appears to be par for the course these days for fisheries officials and the Minister. And there are no consequences for such egregious conduct. 

That is why we cannot trust or believe a word that passes the lips of these officials. 
Today (16 August) is the last day for prospective applicants for long term - although the duration of these rights remains a mystery - fishing rights to collect application forms. 

This BLOG has repeatedly set out why the various processes leading up to this farcical rights allocation process are unlawful. It is worth summarising these, particularly given the fact that the acting DDG of Fisheries, Desmond Stevens, continued to insist in Parliament on 15 August 2013 that the present rights allocation process can continue despite the absence of a number of the required amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act. 

The amendment Bill, we were told by the fisheries minister on 12 August 2013, was adopted by Cabinet. But Stevens then confirmed when questioned by the DA's Pieter van Dalen on 15 August, that the amendment Bill was not approved by Cabinet as the Minister had alleged in a press briefing on 12 August 2013. Lies and more lies. It is impossible to know when these clowns are lying or just ignorant. 

However, we digress. Here are the 5 most profound grounds of illegality that define the current rights allocation process.

1. The consultation process itself was unlawful, particularly because the process on the draft general fisheries policy commenced and concluded without the sector policies being available. In addition, the consultation processes were extremely selective, ad hoc and exclusionary. Consider for example, that no consultation processes were held on the west coast  for line fishers, squid fishers or tuna pole fishers. The shark demersal policy consultation was restricted to 6 invitees only! 

2.  The fishing industry and the general public were never afforded the opportunity to comment on draft application forms or the still unknown grant of fishing right fees. The failure to publish these grant of right fees is particularly concerning and administratively unfair because prospective applicants are simply unaware what they would be required to pay for a right should they succeed! 

3. The application forms that have been published are duplicates of the 2005 forms and as such do not match certain parts of the fishing sector policies. For example, the traditional line fish policy states that applicants must either be "individuals" or "co-operatives" but the application form does not make any provision for a co-operative to apply! So how will a co-operative complete the application form? No one at the Fisheries Department can answer that question! Furthermore, current right holders and new entrant applicants are expect to complete the same application form! 

4. Then of course, the policies make provision for "co-operatives" to apply for and to be granted fishing rights. However, the MLRA does not permit a co-operative to be allocated a fishing right. The draft MLRA amendment Bill does seek to change this but the draft Bill - as Stevens told Parliament - has not even been considered by Cabinet yet and Cabinet will only next sit in September and thereafter it must make its laborious way through both houses of Parliament! 

But as Stevens told Parliament, the Fisheries Department does not believe that the amendment bill is needed to authorise fishing right allocations to co-operatives. Well now, that is news to me. It is the first time that I have heard that a policy can override an Act of Parliament and allow co-operatives to hold fishing rights despite this being prohibited by the MLRA. 

And if the amendment Bill is not required, then why bother with it in the first place? Parliament's Fisheries Portfolio Committee has advised that it will be seeking an independent legal opinion on this aspect! My goodness. Talk about sustaining mediocrity. 

5. The final policies and the gazette calling for applications were never authorised by Cabinet as is required by section 85(2)(b) of the Constitution. The fact that Cabinet had not considered and approved the fishery policies is the most glaring illegality of the entire process. It will no doubt be on this ground alone that a court will set aside the entire rights allocation process in the near future.  

On 12 August 2013, the Minister of Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson addressed the media and the South African public on key Cabinet decisions that were taken the previous Wednesday during the monthly Cabinet meeting. 

With respect to the Draft Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill, 2013, the minister stated the following which is a direct quote from the official briefing statement that is attached to the official Cabinet Statement

"The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson made three key announcements at the Post-Cabinet media briefing in Pretoria. Addressing journalists, the Minister explained key Cabinet announcements pertaining to the approval of the passing of the Marine Living Resources Bill, 2013. The Bill will make it possible for small-scale fishers to obtain fishing rights and regain their livelihoods."

There is no doubt that the Minister stated clearly that Cabinet had approved the "Marine Living Resources Bill, 2013" - actually its the "amendment" bill. 

However, if one trolls through the entire Cabinet Statement which records each decision taken on 7 August 2013, no where is it apparent that Cabinet considered and approved the draft Amendment Bill! Read the Cabinet Statement here in the language of your choice. If the Cabinet Statement does not state that Cabinet considered and approved the Amendment Bill and further that it authorised the Fisheries Minister to introduce the draft bill into Parliament, then how could the minister state that Cabinet approved the draft Amendment Bill?

Did the Minister lie ... again? [One may recall of course that with the 2012/2013 lobster TAC debacle which Feike caught the Minister and her senior officials out on, it was shown that the Minister and her staff deliberately lied about the events surrounding the setting of the current lobster TAC]. 

There are three further red flags here (beside the conspicuous absence of the statement of approval in the Cabinet Statement). The first is that in Parliament today, the Acting DDG of Fisheries, Desmond Stevens, admitted that he was unaware of Cabinet having approved any MLRA amendment bill. The second is that the Fisheries Portfolio Committee researcher confirmed that he has not been able to locate a draft Amendment Bill approved by Cabinet. And the Third is that the Department of Fisheries has stated that the draft Amendment Bill is now a confidential document and cant be made public! 

We will now demand that the Minister provide the fishing industry and the general public with a copy of the draft Amendment Bill she confirmed on 12 August 2013 as having been passed by Cabinet - its not a secret document [these rules may apply in North Korea or Angola but not here]. 

    On 7 August 2013, Cabinet Ministers met for their monthly meeting and again no mention is made of them having considered - let alone - approved any of the fisheries policies. As previously stated, in terms of the Constitution, Cabinet MUST develop and implement national policy, including the fisheries policies. 

    These current rights allocation process and related processes are thus all tainted with unlawfulness and will all certainly be set aside once reviewed. And litigation is a dead certainty as history has shown. 

    However, returning to the Cabinet meeting of 7 August 2013, the following notable decisions were taken - 

    1. Cabinet approved accession in terms of section 231 of the Constitution of the IOTC Agreement, the CCSBT Agreement and importantly the UN Port State Measures Agreement of 2009. These are indeed  welcomed albeit long-overdue developments. Although it is uncertain what is to be acceded to when it comes to IOTC and CCSBT as these are not international or regional treaties. 

    2. Cabinet confirmed that SA will host the 11th COP Abidjan Convention meeting, which will be held in Cape Town during March 2014. 

    3. Finally, Minister Joemat-Pettersson announced that Cabinet had approved the draft Marine Living Resources Bill, 2013. It is unclear what version was passed but the Minister stated the following during a post-cabinet briefing:

    “This is the first time in the history of the fishing industry that we are amending the MLRA. This is both historic and significant because it outlines our commitment to making fishing inclusive to all who participate in the sector. Small-scale fishing communities were and still are extremely prejudiced by the previous commercial fishing rights allocation process as a large percentage of the fishing communities did not receive any fishing rights. This current state of affairs has resulted in small-scale fishing communities facing high levels of abject poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. Many of us are aware of violent outbreaks at historical fishing communities like Hawston. Poaching, drugs and crime have come to characterise coastal communities as fishermen find it difficult to access fish and earn a legitimate living.

    Of course, the MLRA was previously amended (this would be the second amendment) and small-scale fishers have been explicitly accommodated in every rights allocation process since 2001 in terms of 2001 and 2005 fisheries policies. That is why there are more than 2200 small scale fisherman presently in SA and why they have exclusive rights of access to the Cluster C and D and line fish sectors. I guess if you repeat a lie repeatedly, it does become the truth. 

    The grounding of the Kiani Satu before the Womens Day long weekend along the majestic but remote Goukamma coastline puts into perspective again South Africa's failure to manage its fleet of patrol of vessels. 

        The grounded Kiani Satu is vaguely visible toward the top of this picture showing the pristine    beach at Buffels in the Goukamma Marine Protected Area near Knysna. [Pic: Shaheen Moolla, 9 August]

    The potential ecological damage of not having had patrol vessels looking after our fish stocks for the past 18 months (and counting) is hard to convey to the general South African public. The fact that there are oil soaked comorants now needing rescue and the potential of a pristine marine protected area being soaked with 330 tons of heavy fuel oil should hopefully bring the message home clearly that the South African government, and particularly its fisheries minister is directly responsible for this looming ecological catastrophe. 

    The patrol vessels were designed not only for fisheries patrols but are equipped as environmental patrol vessels (EPV's). As EPV's, they are equipped to deploy oil booms that are designed to contain any oil spill from a vessel in a boomed off sea area. They are further equipped to disperse oil dissipating chemicals that break up oil slicks and thus drastically reduce oil pollution. 

    The last time South Africa suffered a similar grounding in a remote and ecologically sensitive area was October 2004 grounding of the BBC China off the Pondoland coast. Although the EPV's had not been delivered at that stage to the Environmental Affairs Department (as it was then in charge of fisheries as well), the department utilised the services of various "kuswag" or coast watch patrol vessels. With the October 2004 BBC China stranding, the Kuswag I, an anti-pollution patrol vessel, together with the Pentow Service, remained on standby at the scene and supported the beach-based clean-up. In addition, the Department also had an anti-pollution patrol aircraft, the Kuswag VIII, in service which provided aerial surveillance of any developing oil slick. 

    And today, we have none of these tools available to protect our invaluable marine and coastal resources. Instead, we have unqualified and unskilled Cadres and politicians running our government departments as if they know anything. As an aside, the SAMSA, Environmental Affairs and P&I teams used Lake Pleasant Hotel outside of Sedgefield as their base from where they worked this past holiday weekend. I could not help but notice that not a single cadre-employed "senior" and "top" manager (as they refer to themselves) was present in the late-night planning meetings or on the beach "managing" the clean-up.