Thursday, December 10, 2009

Environmental Affairs Releases Review of ISS Paper

The Environmental Affairs department has finally released its peer review report on a paper drafted by Feike and commissioned by the ISS on illegal fishing in South Africa. The review was undertaken by Dave Japp. It does not appear to have been reviewed by any other expert. The full review is available at

Feike welcomes the review as the initial paper was intended to commence a debate on our collective understanding of illegal fishing in South Africa and what it costs our economy. The review unfortunately does not attempt to provide an alternative understanding of illegal fishing or what is costs South Africa. The report does however nitpick through stated facts and figures criticising them as more "popular" than "scientific". I readily admit - and had Japp and environmental affairs attended the public debate and review organised in Cape Town to critique the paper they would have heard it then - that any attempt to understand illegal fishing particularly in sectors such as abalone and shark finning, there is no magical scientific formula to determine its ecological and socio-economic impacts. Poachers do not report their takings and earnings on a trade website. You can not contact them and scientifically analyse their data at 0860 POACHERS.

The review furthermore is simply a desk-top review of the paper and subsequent print media generated as a result. It would have been helpful had the review actually attempted to provide an alternative methodology to contextualising illegal fishing. One cannot sit at a desk and criticise the ISS/Feike report's estimates of illegal abalone, pilchard or hake fishing if the reviewer does not interview poachers, gangsters, buyers of abalone in Hong Kong or fishery control officers. The reviewer did not consult international organisations such as TRAFFIC or NGO's who deal with illegal fishing on a daily basis, such as SEAWATCH. The ISS/Feike report actually involved interviews with gangsters and poachers who use poached abalone to buy ephedrine for TIK manufacture. I personally sat with poachers who leisurely sat on the slipway in Hawston offloading more than 1 ton of illegal abalone and lobsters. And you don't footnote and reference the drug-dealers or the poachers name and contact details. Unfortunately Mr Japp forgets that the ISS/Feike report is not intended for some academic scientific journal replete with complex mathematical formulae etc. The report details realities based an actual interviews with hardened criminals and members of some of Cape Town's most violent gangs.

With respect to my research into illegal fishing of hake, the practices and volumes detailed in my paper were in fact confirmed by the South African Deep Sea Trawl Industry Association (SADSTIA) who were part of the initial consultation and review processes. In fact my research into the Spanish practices were recognised by MCM, who under the leadership of Theressa Frantz and SADSTIA, subsequently began a process of taking corrective measures.

Furthermore, while the DEAT review seeks to undermine the numbers and values presented in the ISS/Feike report, the quantum and value of illegal fishing quoted in the report are supported by every other institution, including Rhodes University (who undertook a separate research report into illegal abalone fishing, confirming that the ISS/Feike report may have been too conservative in stating the quantum of illegal abalone fishing), TRAFFIC who monitors the illegal trade in species on an annual basis, the quantum of abalone sold in China and Hong Kong and the numerous and various information sources which exist on the "ground".

Finally, the review paper is fatally undermined by the very admissions and actions by the most senior staff at DEAT and MCM. The Director-General is remembered as having broken down in tears in Parliament and on national television and admitted that neither DEAT nor MCM are able to control poaching, that it is out of control and they do not have any idea how to arrest the deteriorating situation.

In summary, the DEAT review fails to provide an alternative methodology or answers to how one can determine the quantum and value of illegal fishing in South Africa. The DEAT review does not show that the ISS/Feike report is flawed in its methodology or that incorrect information or data was used. The DEAT review does however ask an extraordinary number of questions indicating that it may have useful if the reviewer actually contacted experts such as TRAFFIC, SEAWATCH, Rhodes University, a handful of buyers of illegal abalone, fishery control officers employed by MCM, enforcement officers employed by SANParks (Table Mountain National Park and Bird Island MPA's), abalone right holders and divers, industry bodies such as SADSTIA and so forth. Had the reviewer really been serious, then he could have even contacted the author of the ISS/Feike report and a meeting with certain poachers and TIK dealers could have been arranged.

Feike looks forward to convening a further public debate on the ISS/Feike report and the DEAT review. We firmly believe that only open debate and discussion will allow us to share information and experiences with the hope that we will be able regain the upper hand over illegal fishing in South Africa.

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