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Archive for October, 2014

Lobster TAC Slashed by 17%

Much has been written about the fact that the recreational lobster fishery has had its quota slashed by 17% to 69 tons or 21 days of fishing. There is little doubt that the economic impact of such a curtailment in the recreational fishery will be felt across the coastal Western Cape economy as recreational fishermen decide to not service their boats, purchase new wetsuits, gear and equipment, or confirm holidays in coastal villages from Paternoster to Arniston. 

Of course the Fisheries Department has never undertaken any form of socio-economic research into the social and economic impacts of its decisions despite it being legally obligated to in terms of its theoretical adherence to a policy of "ecosystems approach to fisheries management". 

I have estimated that the reckless introduction of the interim relief lobster sector over the past 8 seasons has cost the South African economy more than R600 million in direct TAC losses. That is a frightening number. The ecological losses to the marine ecosystem are perhaps incalculable. But there is no doubt that the ongoing failure of governance and responsible management of our resources by DAFF is now resulting in biological meltdown in a number of our fisheries. Add to this DAFF's growing inability to even allocate fishing rights, the crises that face our valuable nearshore fisheries and the communities that depend on them will only spur on rapid increases in drug-use, prostitution, gangsterism and other crimes that are already prevalent in our communities. 

And while the lobster fishery faces a whopping 17% cut, DAFF nonchalantly proposed a 50% cut to the abalone TAC! Again, DAFF has not considered the economic consequences of such a TAC cut. Would you be able to survive if your employer told you this month that with effect from next month, your income will be halved? 

A 17% cut to lobster TAC's will have a similar devastating blow. Consider the following income reductions for a nearshore commercial right holder who has to maintain and survey his boat, maintain his gear and ring nets, pay taxes and permit fees and fish levies to the Marine Living Resources Fund, purchase bait to catch lobster and pay for fuel to run his boat and vehicle that tows the boat, and on top of that, provide for his family. 

With a 600kg lobster quota (pre-17% TAC reduction), the average net income (before taxes) earned by right holders was ±R115,000 (assuming a 5% mortality rate). This income will now reduce to R95,000 or less than R8,000 per month. The average interim lobster quota holder can expect to earn less than R2000 per month. 

In reality of course, poor law enforcement, the systematic failure of fishing quota allocation processes, the lack of effective governance at DAFF and widespread corruption and maladministration will probably encourage many right holders to fish well over and above their quotas, especially since fishermen don't know if they will even have fishing rights come next year. (Abalone rights have already lapsed and been replaced with a system of "exemptions" - i.e. confirmation of failure). 

Fishing rights in the lobster fishery (amongst others) are supposed to be re-allocated by July 2015 but with less than 9 months to go (and the department needing at least 3 years lead time and substantial funds that are not available or budgeted for), the era of predictable, bankable and secure fishing rights is officially coming to an end. Instead, we have transformed the fisheries sector in a cesspool of corruption, chaos, overfishing, collapsed fisheries, collapsing investments, growing unemployment, increasing intra-community conflict.... and of course EXEMPTIONS! 

Why Abalone Poaching Flourishes

Feike receives dozens of reports from members of the public and abalone right holders who try and report incidences of abalone poaching but only end up being frustrated by the Department of Fisheries' refusal to stop the scourge of poaching.

An abalone right holder recently narrated two such incidences in October this year alone, which epitomise the failure of the department and frustration of law-abiding abalone right holders who are literally having to watch their livelihood being stolen from them by blatant illegality and mind-boggling incompetence or corruption or both. One cannot but ask: Are DAFF officers part of the abalone poaching syndicates?

13 October 2014

I drove past Harderbaai in Onrus river. Spotted 9 divers in the water. Phoned DAFF in Hermanus, time 18h55 . They said  they knew about them. Followed up next morning, no arrests or confiscations were made. DAFF’s response was that they did go to the scene, but the people were all ready in the water, so they could do nothing! The poachers were not stopped during their poaching operations.

14 October 2014

I drove past Harderbaai in Onrus river. Spotted 2 DAFF vehicles in open sight, each with 2 inspectors. Also spotted six divers on the rocks. They are wet and have been diving. DAFF inspectors are just sitting in their vehicles. I follow up the next morning. No arrests were made, no confiscations were made and the poachers were not stopped during their operations.

Another incident in October involved a spear fisherman who informed DAFF officers that there were illegal abalone divers near Asbaai. He was told that it was not their job to arrest abalone poachers.

DAFF Extends Abalone Fishing Season

The Department of Fisheries has extended the fishing season to 31 October 2014 for Zone G1 right holders only.

The granting of the season extension follows a written request by a Zone G right holder who requested an extension to the season until such time as quotas were harvested. The Department refused to allow an open-ended time frame noting that the 2014/2015 season is set to commence on 1 November 2014.

The TAC for the upcoming season must still be determined. The abalone industry has motivated for a 160 ton catch allowance while the department has proposed a 43 ton TAC.
The Department of Fisheries is proposing another annual substantial reduction to the annual recreational lobster catch and effort limits.

Just two seasons ago, the catch limit was 183 tons or 67 days of fishing spread over the period 15 November to 15 January and 6 April of the following year to 9 April.

The current proposal confirms that the catch limit will be reduced to 69 tons or 21 days of fishing. The only aspect still up for discussion is the spread of the fishing days. The Department has proposed three possibilities:

Option 1: 21 fishing days

November: 6 fishing days (15 to 16 November / 22 to 23 November / 29 to 30 November)

December: 4 fishing days (20 to 21 December / 27 to 28 December)

January: 5 fishing days (1 January / 3 to 4 January / 17 to18 January)

February: 2 fishing days (7 to 8 February)

Easter weekend: 4 fishing days

Option 2: 21 fishing days

November: 4 fishing days (15 to 16 November / 29 to 30 November)

December: 5 fishing days (16 December / 25 to 28 December)

January: 2 fishing days (17 to 18 January)

February: 2 fishing days (7 to 8 February)

March: 4 fishing days (7 to 8 March / 28 to 29 March)

Easter weekend: 4 fishing days

Option 3: 21 fishing days

November: 6 fishing days (5 to 16 November / 22 to 23 November / 29 to 30 November)

December: 9 fishing days (6 to 7 December / 13 to 14 December / 16 December / 21 to 22    December/ 27 to 28 December)

January: 2 fishing days (3 to 4 January)

Easter weekend: 4 fishing days

The proposed TAC proposal only serves to confirm the parlous state of our lobster stocks and that the department's compliance strategies (what ever they are), are not working. These compliance and management failures are also clearly apparent in the abalone, line fish and other sectors where poaching and irresponsible fishing practices are rapidly on the increase.

Abalone Industry Rejects 43 Ton Proposed TAC

The South African abalone industry, representing some 300 small-scale commercial abalone divers, has unanimously rejected the department's proposed 43 ton annual catch limit for the upcoming 2014/2015 fishing season. 

In a brief note addressed to the Deputy Director-General of Fisheries, Mr Mortimer Mannya, and copied to his boss, the Director-General of DAFF, Prof Edith Vries, the industry records their opposition to the proposed 43 ton TAC on the following bases:

1. Right holders had previously provided a comprehensive submission explaining why a 43 ton TAC would not make rational management sense. It appears as if this submission has not been read or understood according to the email. 

2. The proposed reduction to the TAC "fails to comprehend" that the single greatest threat to the viability of abalone stocks is the illegal fishery and not the legal fishery. 

3. The Department continues to not implement an anti-paoching initiative and accordingly the department's statements about reducing poaching are "nonsensical". 

The industry has instead proposed a 127 ton TAC. In addition, it is proposed that the department allow for abalone fishing at Dyer Island and that the present experimental fishery in the False Bay be opened to commercial fishing. The illegal abalone fishery accounts for the loss of at least 2000 tons of abalone annually, while department confiscates approximately 120 tons of this (6%), which is then sold by DAFF for profit in competition with the legal industry. 

The Fisheries Department finally issued exemptions to those oyster right holders who were not re-allocated their rights during the failed and unlawful 2013 fishing rights allocation process. 

The issuing of exemptions - on (or about) 9 October 2014 - meant that for some 10 months oyster harvesters were forced into poverty or illegality as DAFF refused to allocate these harvesters their exemptions despite acknowledging that the FRAP 2013 was unlawful back in April 2014. 

And the only reason these exemptions were issued is because one former right holder approached the Human Rights Commission for assistance. DAFF similarly only issued exemptions to abalone right holders after the Public Protector became involved. And relief for the line fishers came only after a court order and unprecedented public anger and outcry. 

DAFF continues to ignore tuna and demersal shark harvesters who were not re-allocated their respective fishing rights in terms of FRAP 2013. The message to these right holders is clear. If you want DAFF to stop ignoring you, use the Constitutional institutions such as the Public Protector and SA Human Rights Commission. Access to these institutions is free and they have clearly proved effective. 

DAFF Proposes 43 Ton Abalone TAC!

The Fisheries Department issued an email to the representatives of abalone right holders on 1 October stating that it is considering allocating a 43 ton catch limit for the 2014/2015 abalone season which commences on 1 November 2014. 

The most relevant part of the email issued by DAFF states that - 

"The recommendation is based on the management objectives of preventing the abalone spawning biomass in each zone to drop below 20% of its pre-exploitation level and to ensure that it recovers to 40% of that level within 15 years (i.e. by the 2024/2025 season). The recommendation to achieve a 40% recovery goal is coupled with a targeted 15% reduction per annum in the current level of poaching for a period of 15 years.  The recommendation for the abalone TACs for zones A and B are as a result of notably declining trends in Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) over past four years and a decline in densities of abalone in zones C, D and F. The decrease in abalone TACs for zone E and G by 10% emanates from increased levels of poaching and is in line with the maximum annual reduction permitted under the current decision rules. 
A submission by commercial abalone zonal representative on the proposed Scientific Recommendation for the 2014/2015 abalone TAC was received by the Department. In this submission the commercial abalone zonal representatives requested that they be consulted prior to finalisation of the abalone TAC submission or final determination of the abalone TAC for the 2014/2015 fishing season."

The emails states further that the 43 ton allocation proposal will result in the complete closure of all Overberg fishing zones - namely Zones A, B, C and D (Arniston, Gansbaai, Hawston/Hermanus and Kleinmond, respectively). The only catch allowances will be for Zone E / Cape Peninsula (10,8 tons), Zone F / Robben Island (16 tons) and Zone G (West Coast) (16,2 tons). 

In our view, the proposed reduction of the TAC is nonsensical and will not assist with the recovery of abalone stocks. We have stated previously that to insist on implementing a management strategy that keeps reducing the TAC without putting in place a successful compliance strategy that focusses on keeping abalone in the sea (as opposed to a strategy that focusses on confiscating poached product for sale) is the definition of insanity.

All the available research and data points to the fact that poaching continues to increase and that is because DAFF simply does not have the will and resources to significantly reduce poaching. The will is lacking because DAFF simply cannot afford to not keep collecting illegally harvested abalone which it sells for profit in competition with the very industry it is supposed to be regulating. DAFF's refrain year in and year out that the fishery will recover to this and that level if poaching miraculously decreases by a massive 15% each year is fantasy! If poaching has not reduced since 2009, surely your "compliance" strategy is a failure and needs to be dumped? Back in 2003, it took only 6 months of evaluation and consultation to realise that "Operation Neptune" was a failure. Its replacement - Operation Trident - focussed on keeping abalone in the sea through a 3-pronged strategy, premised on - 

  • prosecuting poachers and their bosses in dedicated Green Courts, resulting in the successful convictions of poaching bosses Elizabeth Marx and Jason Ross in 2004 and an 80% conviction rate in these courts as opposed to a 10% conviction rate in the normal magistrates' courts; 
  • preventative compliance by fishery control officers on slipways and beaches, which included ensuring that the FCO's were properly equipped with the appropriate tools to deter and prevent poaching (such as super-ducks and night surveillance equipment). The financial penalty for poaching was also increased from a maximum of R40,000 to R800,000; and
  • disrupting the organised and syndicated trade in abalone by arresting syndicate leaders and traders of illegal abalone.

According to the accepted data, poachers currently remove nothing less than 2000 tons of abalone annually from Western Cape waters. Prof Peter Britz of Rhodes University has previously reported that a similar amount of abalone was being removed from Eastern Cape waters back in 2008. Further, according to research by TRAFFIC, DAFF's ability to even confiscate illegal product has collapsed from an estimated 16% to 6% in 2013. That means poachers are increasingly effective in getting away with poaching. If one accepts the 6% confiscation rate, then DAFF is actually confiscating and selling approximately 100 tons of abalone annually (that is if one completely ignores the illegal take from the Eastern Cape!). One hundred tons is more than the total 2013/2014 catch allowance for the commercial abalone fishery! The sale of 100 tons of abalone would generate a conservative net annual profit of approximately $2 million dollars / R22 million for DAFF (assuming an average sale price of US $200/kg for dried abalone and that dried abalone is approximately 10% of the weight of wet, shucked abalone).

For DAFF to meet its own stated objective of reducing poaching by 15% means that it will have to ensure that no less than 300 tons of abalone remains in the sea. DAFF's compliance abilities clearly cannot reduce poaching by even a single percentage, let alone 15% but each year it makes the same ludicrous statement, which the public and industry are expected to swallow.

Reducing the TAC from 150 tons (2012/2013 season) to 96 tons (last season) to the proposed 43 tons  for the 2014/2015 season will not assist in the recovery of our abalone stocks. Our abalone stocks will only be saved from complete decimation when DAFF actually implements a management and compliance strategy that commits the necessary resources and will to keeping abalone in the sea as opposed to confiscating illegally harvested product for later sale and profit for the Marine Living Resources Fund. 

Until this happens, law-abiding, tax-paying right holders who employ hard-working people along our coast will continue to be punished for DAFF's failures.