Thursday, October 8, 2009

Government Admits inability to fight abalone poaching

In yet another damning admission, the South African government has admitted that it does not have the ability and resources to fight abalone poaching. It appears to be a deer looking at the headlights of a very large truck. The truth of the matter is that we had the resources, skills and institutions in place by 2004 to effectively reduce abalone poaching and they were working! But then came along Marthinus van Schalkwyk and his "new management team" who immediately went about dismantling everything that could be associated with the "previous management team", including getting rid of as many staff as possible to ensure that the "transformation numbers" stacked up. In compliance alone, they removed two directors with more than 50 years of compliance experience. The one director, Marcel Kroese, is now a senior advisor to the US government's fisheries surveillance programme! Kroese was the brainchild of the MARINES programme, the Green Courts and the sourcing of intelligence that brought down the Hout Bay Fishing Industries Patagonian Toothfish and lobster poaching syndicate, Elizabeth Marx and Jason Ross -the latter two being funders of abalone poaching syndicates who were jailed for more than 3 years each and were financially denuded by the Assets Forfeiture Unit.

So between 2005 and 2009, we have had a comprehensive enforcement vacuum coupled with the financial collapse at MCM which again was so effectively led by Monde Mayekiso for a second time in as many decades. So are we surprised by these latest admissions. Not surprised; maybe angry that we have allowed MCM to rob the Overberg of more than 1000 jobs and funded the spread of TIK use to thousands of poor Cape Town residents - not to mention the loss of more than 10 000 tons of abalone since 2005 worth some R5 billion.

But there is also hope now. The "New ANC" government appears to recognise the folly and failure of Van Schalkwyk's Marine and Coastal Management. There now appears to be a sense of energy and urgency to get a handle on abalone poaching - the fact that the Police Commissioner himself is addressing the abalone poaching problem is a massive step in the right direction. I don't believe that we lack the ability and resources to get on top of abalone poaching. What we need is a Minister that is prepared to lead and take some seriously tough decisions - we need Buyelwa Sonjica to pick up where Valli Moosa left off.

MCM cant deal with abalone poaching because of 3 basic reasons.

One, it does not have the money it had in 2004 because of incompetent and ineffective leadership. The MCM story today is similar to what Valli Moosa found in 1999. In 2004, Fisheries Compliance had a budget of more than R85 million - today this budget is understood to be less than R50 million. In addition, compliance had a team of extremely motivated and dedicated professionals who had access to resources (cell phones, overtime pay, vehicles, boats and a network of partners in nationally and internationally). MCM does not need more fishery control officers. It needs smarter leaders who can lead with an effective SMART compliance strategy. MCM's funding crisis needs urgent attention and the only way to do this is to remove the senior management team at MCM and to seriously reduce the bloated administrative structure of more than 700 employees. With the right professional skills, MCM could operate effectively with less than 400 staff.

Two, MCM's leaders have completely lost the trust and confidence of the abalone diving communities along the coast. In court papers in 2008, MCM's senior management described all abalone divers as poachers! It is not only the divers that don't trust MCM; a host of important partners no longer have faith in MCM. These relationships on the ground must be rebuilt.

Three, the compliance vacuum must be filled immediately. This particular wheel was invented back in 2003 and 2004. It needs rebuilding. The core components of the compliance should be to -

  • Get abalone divers back in the water fishing legally and for sustainable quotas, thus displacing a lot of illegal and unsustainable abalone and lobster poaching. A TAC of about 210 tons could be set for abalone fishing zones A, B, E, F and G. Zones C and D must remain closed.
  • Get the Green Courts up and running in Hermanus and Port Elizabeth. They will require properly trained "green" prosecutors supported by a team of properly trained fishery control officers. Magistrates will also require training in fisheries laws and sanctions.
  • Re-establish and staff the MARINES programme. This programme cost approximately R18 million in 2004 to implement.
  • Resolve MCM's funding crisis so as to allow effective deployment of the patrol vessels. Part of MCM's funding crisis is that it lacks the professional skills for effective use and deployment of the vessels. To use the Sarah Baartman and the inshore patrol vessels for anti-abalone poaching exercises is literally to throw money into the ocean.
  • Urgently attend to MCM's gaffes internationally. The most important is the failure to implement CITES permit endorsement requirement which has made the trade in poached abalone extremely easy.
  • Get the right people with the right skills regardless of skin colour back to clean up the mess before it is too late.
If we implement this strategy, I believe we could seriously impact poaching numbers. We currently lose a conservatively estimated 10 million units of abalone each year worth some R1,5 to R2 billion annually. We need to reduce poaching to more ecologically sustainable levels which means getting annual figures down to about 500 000 units and less.

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