It is finally official. The abalone fishery will be reopened to commercial fishing in February 2010. This was announced on 6 December 2009 by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who will also assume the position of minister in charge of fisheries.
The Minister - Tina-Joemat Petterson - did not however announce what the TAC would be as she is still in the process of consulting officials at MCM. We hope that she will consult extensively with divers and academics at UCT who have undertaken substantial research into the status of the fishery, including the predominance of urchins in the Hangklip region. MCM officials will be able to tell her very little unfortunately as they have not undertaken any substantial ecological, social or economic research since at least 2007. In addition, it was MCM's management team that forced through the closure of fishery despite independent scientific advice which showed that the commercial fishery had little impact on the sustainability of the abalone fishery.
The Minister importantly mentioned that poaching remains the single biggest problem to the future of the abalone sector. She made brief mention of MCM co-opting former ANC and PAC military veterans as officers to combat poaching. It is unclear what role they will precisely play but it is understood that they may form part of a marine compliance unit of sorts.
The Minister will be under significant pressure over the next few weeks to detail her strategy to recover the upper hand over poaching and to save MCM from institutional collapse.