Sunday, September 6, 2009

So Who's the Real Minister of Fisheries?

It is September 2009 - the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. In April, South Africa elected Jacob Zuma as the third democratically elected president. By May 2009, news broke that the President appointed Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersen as the first ever minister of fisheries. Her full title was the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. However, it later emerged that in fact the minister of fisheries would not be responsible for fisheries afterall! Fisheries regulation would remain the political purview of the new Minister of Environment and Water Affairs.

So why is the Minister of Fisheries not the minister of fisheries and why do we continue to have a minister of fisheries? Sadly - as is becoming typical of how our government attends to hard issues - this issue is surrounded by conjecture, rumour and (race-based) whispers. To date, we do not have a leadership with the courage to come forward and explain why taxpayers' hard earned rands still pays for this confusion. And there certainly has been confusion! Imagine addressing fisheries related correspondence to the minister of fisheries only to be told that you need to address your correspondence to some one responsible for environment and water affairs. To date, we have not had any official word from the Minister of Environment and Water Affairs stating that she is responsible for fisheries despite her colleague carrying the title and why this is so.

And 5 months on (or 150 days) neither the departments of environment, water affairs, agriculture, tourism and forestry have got around to establishing their own respective homes on the world wide web. Fisheries related news is still cumbersomely located on the website for the non-existent department of environmental affairs and tourism or!

Ok, so who is in charge if what? Based on responses to media stories and decision-making processes about fisheries issues, the Minister of Environment and Water Affairs, Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, is responsible for marine fisheries management - in other words, enforcement of the Marine Living Resources Act except aquaculture. The Minister of Fisheries, Ms Joemat-Petterssen is in fact responsible for fresh and marine aquaculture or fish farming, which also happens to occur under the Marine Living Resources Act and its regulations and policies.

Question. Who takes a decision with regard to, for example, the ranching of abalone. Ranching of course involves the planting of farmed abalone spat into the natural marine environment to produce wild stock - it's a restocking strategy. Will you have to apply to one Minister for permission to grow the spat and then to another for permission to ranch and harvest the spat? Can you imagine the bureaucratic confusion that will be sowed in this process and the disincentives to invest in ranching opportunities which we so desperately require if we are to recover our collapsed abalone stocks and the jobs that went with it? The departments will have to establish joint working groups and advisory bodies whose members will have to fly between Pretoria and Cape Town to consult each other and ensure "collective" decision-making.

We will keep monitoring developments on who the Real Minister of Fisheries is.

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