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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. 

The FRAP 2013 Fixer-Upper

The catastrophe that was the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process involving 8 commercial and small-scale commercial fisheries and 979 right holders is finally on the cusp of being remedied ... at least as best as one can repair a fishing rights allocation process as flawed, irrational and damaging to our fishing communities as the 2013 process has been. 

I, together with Mamakhe Mdhuli (an attorney from Johannesburg) and Professor Julian Smith (former Vice Rector at Stellenbosch), commenced the FRAP 2013 remedial process some 10 months ago on the instruction of Minister Senzeni Zokwana and with the support the current DDG of Fisheries, Ms Siphokazi Ndudane. I was initially approached by the Minister and Ms Ndudane more than 12 months ago to determine whether I would consider assisting the Minister repair the damage caused by the ill-advised FRAP 2013 process. 

The extent of the remedial process has been limited to what we - as an appeals advisory team - could lawfully undertake given the extremely flawed foundations upon which the FRAP 2013 were initially determined. 

A key concern identified by the Minister across all 8 fishery sectors that he has considered to date (including the more than 560 traditional line fish appeals awaiting final determination), is that fishing rights were allocated to so many new entrants who did not have access to suitable or any fishing vessels and who lacked any ability and knowledge to fish. That would explain why less than 25% of all allocated hake handline fishing rights were activated in 2015. Or why less than 10% of new entrants in the traditional line fishery applied for a fishing permit since having been allocated a right since January 2014. 

The allocation of fishing rights to applicants who do not have access to vessels; who do not know how to fish; or do not have the resources and capital to put a vessel to sea because they cannot pay for fuel, bait, insurance or crew costs means that fish prices go up due to reduced supply and less local crew have jobs. Just consider the price of fish over Easter since 2014. Snoek prices before Easter 2014 hovered at R150 a fish. Easter 2016 saw snoek at R200 and more. Low income households who depend on local line caught fish (snoek, Hottentot, geelbek, Roman) as a food source simply cannot afford these prices. 

The Minister is presently wrapping up the traditional line fish appeals process. There are a number of investigations being undertaken by the forensic audit firm, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, which arose from the provisional list comment period. These investigations principally concern appellants who may have misrepresented their involvement in the fishery, their catch performance or their compliance history. 

The FRAP 2013 remedial measures will continue for some time after the Minister announces the final decisions in the traditional line fishery. Principal amongst these will be the cancellation of fishing rights allocated to persons who have failed to utilise their rights since 2014. Other measures will include monitoring the ongoing catching performance of right holders, especially those in the shark demersal fishery to ensure that CITES listed species are not targeted and harvested. In the white mussel fishery, the new management system of allocating multiple rights in most of the seven harvesting zones needs monitoring to determine if it meets the objectives set by the Minister. 

The FRAP 2013 Fixer-Upper

The catastrophe that was the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process involving 8 commercial and small-scale commercial fisheries and 979 right holders is finally on the cusp of being remedied ... at least as best as one can repair a fishing rights allocation process as flawed, irrational and damaging to our fishing communities as the 2013 process has been. 

I, together with Mamakhe Mdhuli (an attorney from Johannesburg) and Professor Julian Smith (former Vice Rector at Stellenbosch), commenced the FRAP 2013 remedial process some 10 months ago on the instruction of Minister Senzeni Zokwana and with the support the current DDG of Fisheries, Ms Siphokazi Ndudane. I was initially approached by the Minister and Ms Ndudane more than 12 months ago to determine whether I would consider assisting the Minister repair the damage caused by the ill-advised FRAP 2013 process. 

The extent of the remedial process has been limited to what we - as an appeals advisory team - could lawfully undertake given the extremely flawed foundations upon which the FRAP 2013 were initially determined. 

A key concern identified by the Minister across all 8 fishery sectors that he has considered to date (including the more than 560 traditional line fish appeals awaiting final determination), is that fishing rights were allocated to so many new entrants who did not have access to suitable or any fishing vessels and who lacked any ability and knowledge to fish. That would explain why less than 25% of all allocated hake handline fishing rights were activated in 2015. Or why less than 10% of new entrants in the traditional line fishery applied for a fishing permit since having been allocated a right since January 2014. 

The allocation of fishing rights to applicants who do not have access to vessels; who do not know how to fish; or do not have the resources and capital to put a vessel to sea because they cannot pay for fuel, bait, insurance or crew costs means that fish prices go up due to reduced supply and less local crew have jobs. Just consider the price of fish over Easter since 2014. Snoek prices before Easter 2014 hovered at R150 a fish. Easter 2016 saw snoek at R200 and more. Low income households who depend on local line caught fish (snoek, Hottentot, geelbek, Roman) as a food source simply cannot afford these prices. 

The Minister is presently wrapping up the traditional line fish appeals process. There are a number of investigations being undertaken by the forensic audit firm, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, which arose from the provisional list comment period. These investigations principally concern appellants who may have misrepresented their involvement in the fishery, their catch performance or their compliance history. 

The FRAP 2013 remedial measures will continue for some time after the Minister announces the final decisions in the traditional line fishery. Principal amongst these will be the cancellation of fishing rights allocated to persons who have failed to utilise their rights since 2014. Other measures will include monitoring the ongoing catching performance of right holders, especially those in the shark demersal fishery to ensure that CITES listed species are not targeted and harvested. In the white mussel fishery, the new management system of allocating multiple rights in most of the seven harvesting zones needs monitoring to determine if it meets the objectives set by the Minister. 

2015/2016 Lobster TAC Announced

The Fisheries Department has announced the TAC for the 2015/2016 lobster fishing season. The global TAC has been set at 1924.45 tons which translates to a 6.83% increase when compared to the  2014/2015 lobster TAC.

The global TAC for the 2015/16 west coast rock lobster fishing season has been apportioned as follow:

·        Commercial Fishing (Offshore): 1243.48 tons (previously 1120.25 tons);
·        Commercial Fishing (Nearshore): 376.10 tons (previously 376.10 tons);
·        Subsistence (Interim Relief Measure) Fishing: 235.30 tons (previously 230.10 tons);  and
·        Recreational Fishing: 69.20 tons (previously 69.20.5 tons)

The 2015/16 west coast rock lobster recreational fishing season will open on Sunday, 15 November 2015 and will close on Sunday, 28 March 2016. The 2015/16 WCRL recreational fishing effort will be restricted to 21 days and will be split as follow:

·        Fishing allowed from 15 November 2015 to 15 November 2015 (1 day)

·        Fishing allowed from 21 November 2015 to 22 November 2015 (2 day)

·        Fishing allowed from 5 December 2015 to 6 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 5 December 2015 to 6 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 12 December 2015 to 13 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 19 December 2015 to 20 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 26 December 2015 to 27 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 2 January 2016 to 3 January 2016 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 9 January 2016 to 10 January 2016 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 25 March 2016 to 28 March 2016 (4 days)


Recreational fishing times for WCRL will be from 08h00 until 16h00 and the bag limit is four per person per day and the size restriction is 80 millimetres carapace length.

No person catching WCRL with a recreational fishing permit may sell his/her catch and any WCRL caught, collected or transported must be kept in a whole state.

A maximum of 20 lobsters may be transported per day on condition that all the persons who caught such WCRL’s are present in the vehicle, vessel or aircraft during transportation and that such persons are in possession of valid lobster recreational fishing permits.

2015/2016 Lobster TAC Announced

The Fisheries Department has announced the TAC for the 2015/2016 lobster fishing season. The global TAC has been set at 1924.45 tons which translates to a 6.83% increase when compared to the  2014/2015 lobster TAC.

The global TAC for the 2015/16 west coast rock lobster fishing season has been apportioned as follow:

·        Commercial Fishing (Offshore): 1243.48 tons (previously 1120.25 tons);
·        Commercial Fishing (Nearshore): 376.10 tons (previously 376.10 tons);
·        Subsistence (Interim Relief Measure) Fishing: 235.30 tons (previously 230.10 tons);  and
·        Recreational Fishing: 69.20 tons (previously 69.20.5 tons)

The 2015/16 west coast rock lobster recreational fishing season will open on Sunday, 15 November 2015 and will close on Sunday, 28 March 2016. The 2015/16 WCRL recreational fishing effort will be restricted to 21 days and will be split as follow:

·        Fishing allowed from 15 November 2015 to 15 November 2015 (1 day)

·        Fishing allowed from 21 November 2015 to 22 November 2015 (2 day)

·        Fishing allowed from 5 December 2015 to 6 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 5 December 2015 to 6 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 12 December 2015 to 13 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 19 December 2015 to 20 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 26 December 2015 to 27 December 2015 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 2 January 2016 to 3 January 2016 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 9 January 2016 to 10 January 2016 (2 days)

·        Fishing allowed from 25 March 2016 to 28 March 2016 (4 days)


Recreational fishing times for WCRL will be from 08h00 until 16h00 and the bag limit is four per person per day and the size restriction is 80 millimetres carapace length.

No person catching WCRL with a recreational fishing permit may sell his/her catch and any WCRL caught, collected or transported must be kept in a whole state.

A maximum of 20 lobsters may be transported per day on condition that all the persons who caught such WCRL’s are present in the vehicle, vessel or aircraft during transportation and that such persons are in possession of valid lobster recreational fishing permits.
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