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The Daily Dispatch reports that China has officially stated that its arrested fishing vessels were fishing legally and had the necessary permits and China was seeking "prompt and appropriate settlement” of the investigation “in line with the friendship and cooperation between our countries”.

While it is clear that the arrested fishing vessels,  the MFV Fu Yuan Yu 7880, MFV Fu Yang Yu 7881 & MFV Run Da 617, are authorised by the South Pacific Regional Fishery Management Organisation to harvest fish in the South Pacific Convention Area only. These vessels are authorised to use pole and line gear when fishing in the Convention Area waters.

This High Seas fishing license certainly does not authorise these vessels to enter South African waters and more importantly does not permit these vessels to fish in SA waters.

As none of the arrested vessels had section 39 licenses issued by the Fisheries Department under the Marine Living Resources Act to enter our EEZ, the vessels committed a serious violation of our law. It is akin to a foreign national crossing a South African terrestrial border illegally through a hole in the proverbial border fences. Such a violation carries a R5 million penalty plus possible forfeiture of the IUU vessel, arrest of the Captain and officers, and forfeiture of all fish on board the vessel.

There are numerous other less serious violations that the vessels may be guilty of under the MLRA and other SA laws.

China - as the flag state - should provide the South African fisheries department with all VMS data for each of the arrested vessels from the time these vessels entered our waters to determine if they were illegally fishing while having entered our waters illegally (i.e. without having been granted permission under section 39 of the MLRA). The VMS data will conclusively establish the intentions of these vessels while in SA waters.
The Daily Dispatch reports that China has officially stated that its arrested fishing vessels were fishing legally and had the necessary permits and China was seeking "prompt and appropriate settlement” of the investigation “in line with the friendship and cooperation between our countries”.

While it is clear that the arrested fishing vessels,  the MFV Fu Yuan Yu 7880, MFV Fu Yang Yu 7881 & MFV Run Da 617, are authorised by the South Pacific Regional Fishery Management Organisation to harvest fish in the South Pacific Convention Area only. These vessels are authorised to use pole and line gear when fishing in the Convention Area waters.

This High Seas fishing license certainly does not authorise these vessels to enter South African waters and more importantly does not permit these vessels to fish in SA waters.

As none of the arrested vessels had section 39 licenses issued by the Fisheries Department under the Marine Living Resources Act to enter our EEZ, the vessels committed a serious violation of our law. It is akin to a foreign national crossing a South African terrestrial border illegally through a hole in the proverbial border fences. Such a violation carries a R5 million penalty plus possible forfeiture of the IUU vessel, arrest of the Captain and officers, and forfeiture of all fish on board the vessel.

There are numerous other less serious violations that the vessels may be guilty of under the MLRA and other SA laws.

China - as the flag state - should provide the South African fisheries department with all VMS data for each of the arrested vessels from the time these vessels entered our waters to determine if they were illegally fishing while having entered our waters illegally (i.e. without having been granted permission under section 39 of the MLRA). The VMS data will conclusively establish the intentions of these vessels while in SA waters.
What if our famed West Coast Rock lobster is downgraded to SASSI's Red List? Or should the question instead read "When..."?

Will that save lobster stocks from complete decimation? What will the socio-economic consequences be? Of course, strictly speaking that is not SASSI's mandate or direct concern. SASSI's colour coding of fish stocks is determined by the biological and ecological health of the fishery concerned. However, given that our lobster stocks have been sitting at between 3% and 2% of pristine for some time now, that SASSI had not red listed lobster a few years ago, confirms that the organisation is indeed mindful of the socio-economic impacts of red-listing such a crucial small-commercial fishery. 

Indeed, if abalone has been on the red list for years now, why has lobster similarly not been classified as red? 

The reality is that while placing lobster on the red list may have little to no consequences for the export-driven offshore commercial fishery, the small-scale fishery (which has much higher levels of mortalities) depends substantially more on local consumers, including fish mongers, restaurateurs, hoteliers and some retailers to buy their frozen whole or tailed products. 

Listing lobster on the red list may not only hurt the legal small-scale nearshore fishery by reducing the pool of responsible local consumers, but will certainly reduce the market value of locally available lobsters. This is in turn will almost certainly increase the illegal trade in lobsters given that small-scale fishers will seek to make up the loss in income through increasing lobster catches. 

The only viable solution to fixing the lobster crisis is to urgently reduce the number of persons who harvest nearshore stocks and re-examine how inshore fishery compliance for high value stocks is undertaken. The number of persons accessing lobster (whether through section 18 rights or via the interim relief process) grew from just more than 800 small-scale fishers back in 2004 (when the lobster TAC was at its highest in South African history) to more than 2500 today, which includes an estimated 1700 interim relief fishers. 
What if our famed West Coast Rock lobster is downgraded to SASSI's Red List? Or should the question instead read "When..."?

Will that save lobster stocks from complete decimation? What will the socio-economic consequences be? Of course, strictly speaking that is not SASSI's mandate or direct concern. SASSI's colour coding of fish stocks is determined by the biological and ecological health of the fishery concerned. However, given that our lobster stocks have been sitting at between 3% and 2% of pristine for some time now, that SASSI had not red listed lobster a few years ago, confirms that the organisation is indeed mindful of the socio-economic impacts of red-listing such a crucial small-commercial fishery. 

Indeed, if abalone has been on the red list for years now, why has lobster similarly not been classified as red? 

The reality is that while placing lobster on the red list may have little to no consequences for the export-driven offshore commercial fishery, the small-scale fishery (which has much higher levels of mortalities) depends substantially more on local consumers, including fish mongers, restaurateurs, hoteliers and some retailers to buy their frozen whole or tailed products. 

Listing lobster on the red list may not only hurt the legal small-scale nearshore fishery by reducing the pool of responsible local consumers, but will certainly reduce the market value of locally available lobsters. This is in turn will almost certainly increase the illegal trade in lobsters given that small-scale fishers will seek to make up the loss in income through increasing lobster catches. 

The only viable solution to fixing the lobster crisis is to urgently reduce the number of persons who harvest nearshore stocks and re-examine how inshore fishery compliance for high value stocks is undertaken. The number of persons accessing lobster (whether through section 18 rights or via the interim relief process) grew from just more than 800 small-scale fishers back in 2004 (when the lobster TAC was at its highest in South African history) to more than 2500 today, which includes an estimated 1700 interim relief fishers. 
So what do we know to date about the "Chinese" named but apparently flag-less vessels spotted in SA  waters? 

According to the Minister of Fisheries, Mr Zokwana, the fleet of brand new fishing vessels were sailing to the Congo from China. Apparently, they were new-build vessels for an unnamed Angolan fishing company. 

It would appear that after they were intercepted by the EPV Lilian Ngoyi in South African waters near the Bird Island Group MPA, the fleet received instructions from the owners to split up and ignore all instructions from South African authorities proceed to port. 

The result is that an estimated 8 vessels have escaped while 1 vessel has been arrested and is presently in Table Bay Harbour. 

What is apparent is that these fishing vessels entered the SA EEZ without having first been given permission to do so under the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998. That would amount to a violation of section 39 of the MLRA. A violation of section 39 carries a fine of R5 million, together with the possible forfeiture of the vessel (and any fish on board). 

Further violations include failing to adhere to the lawful instructions of a fishery control officer. In addition, if the vessel is indeed flag-less, the vessel is a de facto pirate vessel under international law.

It is unclear at this stage whether they were engaged in IUU fishing in our waters although the citizen reports on the Facebook Page "Saltwater Fishing" seem to indicate that the vessels may very well have been targeting sardines - which is unlikely. It is more probable that the vessels were targeting large pelagic fish species that follow the sardine shoals. These prized large pelagic species would include sharks (for fins) and tunas and swordfishes. 

The Minister has indicated that the arrested vessel, once forfeited to the state, will not be sold on auction but will instead be converted to a patrol vessel. This strategy is to be applauded given that South Africa requires additional at-sea patrolling capabilities and new-build vessel programmes will not be funded by the National Treasury at this time. If we recall, South Africa converted the lobster poaching vessel Eagle Star back in 2003 and used it successfully as a patrol vessel until it was inexplicably sold in about 2007 for less than the value of the diesel on board the vessel. 

In so far as the remaining 8 IUU vessels are concerned, it does appear that South Africa has ceased pursuing the vessels and as such the vessels are not subject to hot pursuit. However, South Africa needs to share all relevant information with neighbouring states, including the Congo (the country of intended destination) and Angola (the apparent domicile of the new vessel owner), that these vessels are suspected of IUU fishing in SA waters and that they need to denied port entry under the provisions of the Port State Measures Agreement. 


So what do we know to date about the "Chinese" named but apparently flag-less vessels spotted in SA  waters? 

According to the Minister of Fisheries, Mr Zokwana, the fleet of brand new fishing vessels were sailing to the Congo from China. Apparently, they were new-build vessels for an unnamed Angolan fishing company. 

It would appear that after they were intercepted by the EPV Lilian Ngoyi in South African waters near the Bird Island Group MPA, the fleet received instructions from the owners to split up and ignore all instructions from South African authorities proceed to port. 

The result is that an estimated 8 vessels have escaped while 1 vessel has been arrested and is presently in Table Bay Harbour. 

What is apparent is that these fishing vessels entered the SA EEZ without having first been given permission to do so under the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998. That would amount to a violation of section 39 of the MLRA. A violation of section 39 carries a fine of R5 million, together with the possible forfeiture of the vessel (and any fish on board). 

Further violations include failing to adhere to the lawful instructions of a fishery control officer. In addition, if the vessel is indeed flag-less, the vessel is a de facto pirate vessel under international law.

It is unclear at this stage whether they were engaged in IUU fishing in our waters although the citizen reports on the Facebook Page "Saltwater Fishing" seem to indicate that the vessels may very well have been targeting sardines - which is unlikely. It is more probable that the vessels were targeting large pelagic fish species that follow the sardine shoals. These prized large pelagic species would include sharks (for fins) and tunas and swordfishes. 

The Minister has indicated that the arrested vessel, once forfeited to the state, will not be sold on auction but will instead be converted to a patrol vessel. This strategy is to be applauded given that South Africa requires additional at-sea patrolling capabilities and new-build vessel programmes will not be funded by the National Treasury at this time. If we recall, South Africa converted the lobster poaching vessel Eagle Star back in 2003 and used it successfully as a patrol vessel until it was inexplicably sold in about 2007 for less than the value of the diesel on board the vessel. 

In so far as the remaining 8 IUU vessels are concerned, it does appear that South Africa has ceased pursuing the vessels and as such the vessels are not subject to hot pursuit. However, South Africa needs to share all relevant information with neighbouring states, including the Congo (the country of intended destination) and Angola (the apparent domicile of the new vessel owner), that these vessels are suspected of IUU fishing in SA waters and that they need to denied port entry under the provisions of the Port State Measures Agreement. 


TRADITIONAL LINE FISH APPEALS: AN UPDATE

On 8 March 2016, the Fisheries Minister announced his provisional set of appeal decisions in the traditional line fishery. Of the 564 appeals considered, the Minister decided to provisionally grant line fish rights to - 


  • 169 appellants in Zone A;
  • 22 appellants in Zone B; and
  • 15 appellants in Zone C. 
The provisional decisions were issued for public comment and scrutiny until 28 March 2016. The Minister appointed the forensic audit firm, Sizwe Ntsaluba & Gobodo Inc ("SNG"), to oversee the provisional list and comment process. During the "provisional list" process, the Minister received 127 comments and complaints in total.  

The appeals advisory team has been briefed on all investigations undertaken and completed by SNG. The appeals advisory team will be spending the remaining time this week finalising the recommendations to be presented to the Minister, whereafter the Minister will consider the appeals and issue his final set of decisions on the traditional line fish appeals. It is anticipated that the final appeal decisions will be published during the course of the second week of May 2016. 

TRADITIONAL LINE FISH APPEALS: AN UPDATE

On 8 March 2016, the Fisheries Minister announced his provisional set of appeal decisions in the traditional line fishery. Of the 564 appeals considered, the Minister decided to provisionally grant line fish rights to - 


  • 169 appellants in Zone A;
  • 22 appellants in Zone B; and
  • 15 appellants in Zone C. 
The provisional decisions were issued for public comment and scrutiny until 28 March 2016. The Minister appointed the forensic audit firm, Sizwe Ntsaluba & Gobodo Inc ("SNG"), to oversee the provisional list and comment process. During the "provisional list" process, the Minister received 127 comments and complaints in total.  

The appeals advisory team has been briefed on all investigations undertaken and completed by SNG. The appeals advisory team will be spending the remaining time this week finalising the recommendations to be presented to the Minister, whereafter the Minister will consider the appeals and issue his final set of decisions on the traditional line fish appeals. It is anticipated that the final appeal decisions will be published during the course of the second week of May 2016. 

Avoid Lobster Mortalities & Reap the Profits

Any lobster fisherman knows that a live lobster is better than a dead or dying lobster. The difference is literally worth a small fortune and means a great deal for small-scale lobster fishers particularly who have much smaller quotas than the larger commercial operators.

Having observed the way lobsters are fished, handled, transported and packed over the years, it is little wonder why lobster mortality rates in the small-scale and interim relief sectors are so high. High mortalities not only affect the incomes generated by these fishers, but also - I would argue - support the rampant growth in the illegal fishing of lobsters so as to make up for income losses.

Why has the conversation in the lobster fishery not shifted from arguments about more and more quotas to how do we maximise incomes and profits from the sale of lobsters based on current quota sizes? Why have fishers organisations, including the West Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association, Coastal Links and SAUFF, not invested in training small scale lobster fishers in techniques to ensure lower (if not near zero) mortality rates and higher market prices?

For example, how many lobster fishers appreciate that proper and delicate handling techniques immediately after harvesting are crucial to ensuring lobster survival and health? Lobsters are delicate animals as a result of their strange anatomy. Lobster's also suffer stress quite easily which results in mortality. So treat them gently and with care and reap the financial rewards.

Here are some handling tips:


  • Whether using traps or hoop nets, ensure that lobsters are lifted slowly and carefully from the water to avoid inducing unnecessary stress and damage. 
  • Dont dump your harvest on the deck or in the bins. Remove lobsters from the traps / net gently.
  • Keep lobsters moist with sea water - fresh water over their gills (from ice) can increase mortality.
  • When packing them, don't overpack bins. Use moist and soft packaging to cushion them and make sure they all face the same direction. 
  • Do everything to avoid stressing lobsters. Avoid unnecessary and substantial temperature shifts, low oxygen levels, exposure to high ammonia levels or other dissolved toxins, changes in salinity, crowding and aggression.
  • Once placed in purging tanks (especially after they have been out of sea water for some time), ensure that lobsters are moved from the initial purging tank to another as they release built-up ammonia shortly after being placed back into sea water. You don't want your freshly purged lobsters to remain in ammonia saturated waters as this will increase mortality rates substantially. 

Avoid Lobster Mortalities & Reap the Profits

Any lobster fisherman knows that a live lobster is better than a dead or dying lobster. The difference is literally worth a small fortune and means a great deal for small-scale lobster fishers particularly who have much smaller quotas than the larger commercial operators.

Having observed the way lobsters are fished, handled, transported and packed over the years, it is little wonder why lobster mortality rates in the small-scale and interim relief sectors are so high. High mortalities not only affect the incomes generated by these fishers, but also - I would argue - support the rampant growth in the illegal fishing of lobsters so as to make up for income losses.

Why has the conversation in the lobster fishery not shifted from arguments about more and more quotas to how do we maximise incomes and profits from the sale of lobsters based on current quota sizes? Why have fishers organisations, including the West Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association, Coastal Links and SAUFF, not invested in training small scale lobster fishers in techniques to ensure lower (if not near zero) mortality rates and higher market prices?

For example, how many lobster fishers appreciate that proper and delicate handling techniques immediately after harvesting are crucial to ensuring lobster survival and health? Lobsters are delicate animals as a result of their strange anatomy. Lobster's also suffer stress quite easily which results in mortality. So treat them gently and with care and reap the financial rewards.

Here are some handling tips:


  • Whether using traps or hoop nets, ensure that lobsters are lifted slowly and carefully from the water to avoid inducing unnecessary stress and damage. 
  • Dont dump your harvest on the deck or in the bins. Remove lobsters from the traps / net gently.
  • Keep lobsters moist with sea water - fresh water over their gills (from ice) can increase mortality.
  • When packing them, don't overpack bins. Use moist and soft packaging to cushion them and make sure they all face the same direction. 
  • Do everything to avoid stressing lobsters. Avoid unnecessary and substantial temperature shifts, low oxygen levels, exposure to high ammonia levels or other dissolved toxins, changes in salinity, crowding and aggression.
  • Once placed in purging tanks (especially after they have been out of sea water for some time), ensure that lobsters are moved from the initial purging tank to another as they release built-up ammonia shortly after being placed back into sea water. You don't want your freshly purged lobsters to remain in ammonia saturated waters as this will increase mortality rates substantially. 
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