Friday, December 24, 2010

Toxic Algal Bloom at Noordhoek

The City of Cape Town informed members of the public to avoid all contact with the water at the Wildevoelvlei and outlet channel leading to the sea. Wildevoelvlei had a well-established algae population dominated by species of blue-green algae named Cyanophyceae.

During the warm summer months, the algal population could increase dramatically, and this accounted for the current green pea-soup colour of the water.

Shellfish such as mussels harvested from the coast below the vlei were likely to be unfit for human consumption as a result of the toxins. Exposure to the algae could cause eye irritation, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhoea, and cold or flu-like symptoms. Drinking or swallowing large amounts of contaminated water could be extremely dangerous.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Measuring the Impacts of Commercial Fishing

Two recent studies highlight a debate within the world of marine fisheries science over how to interpret available fisheries data and to determine the impacts of commercial fishing on the marine environment (see

The global demand for seafood is high, and over the past several decades the harvesting of wild fish from the oceans has grown into a huge business. Between 1950 - the year the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization - began releasing an annual report of catch statistics, and the late 1980s the global annual reported catch ballooned from around 18 million metric tons to peak at about 80 million metric tons. Since then, the catch has stagnated, dropping to near 79 million metric tons in 2005.

There is no argument the industry's massive growth has vastly affected ocean ecosystems, but the extent to which this disruption has depleted and continues to deplete the sea's biodiversity has become source of a heated debate within the world of marine fisheries science. At the center of the disagreement, which is highlighted by two recently published studies, is a question: What is the best way to measure the ecological footprint of commercial fishing?

The answer is complicated, due to the inconsistent nature of the data from a large portion the world's fisheries, especially those operated by developing nations. But the authors of a new study published December 2 in PLoS One say they have for the first time quantified, on a global scale, the ecological consequences of commercial fishing. They say their results, gleaned by analyzing global catch statistics, reveal that only the expansion into new fishing grounds has maintained seafood supply by making up for devastating destruction of the biodiversity in older fisheries. Now, they say, there is no more room to expand, and current fishing practices are not sustainable.

Daniel Pauly, a professor of fisheries biology at the University of British Columbia, was a co-author of the new paper. Pauly, also the principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project ( , says his group was able to measure biodiversity loss by developing a "'currency,' or common denominator, for the impact of fisheries on ecosystems," necessary because that impact varies depending on which species is harvested.

In previous work Pauly's group divided the planet's oceans into 180,000 individual cells and used catch statistics to determine the amount of every species caught in each cell between 1950 and 2005. Then, they determined the "primary production"—an ecological term referring to organisms at the very bottom of an ecosystem's food web—required to produce all the fish harvested from every cell. In ocean ecosystems primary production comes from phytoplankton. Each fish species needs a unique amount of primary production to survive, depending on their place on the food web. The higher in the web—or, as ecologists say, the higher the trophic level—the more that is required.

In the new paper the authors expressed the primary production required to produce the catch from each cell as a fraction of the total primary production—a value they inferred by analyzing satellite photos to measure pigmentation in the water—in each respective locale. The result is an illustration of the global "ecological footprint" of marine fisheries—one that, given current trends, cannot be sustained.

Not all marine fisheries scientists, however, agree that primary production required is a reliable enough measurement of biodiversity loss.

Care must be taken not to overinterpret the metric, says Kevern Cochrane, the director of the resources use and conservation division of the FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department . "I think it is a useful complement to other ways of looking at the picture," he says, but "it does introduce other uncertainties as well."

These uncertainties stem from the fact that it relies on records of fisheries catches. "If you really want to know what the health of the ecosystem is, it's better to focus on what is actually in the ecosystem, rather than what you get out of it," says Trevor Branch , a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington (U.W.) in Seattle. "There are lots of reasons why catches go up and down, irrespective of what's happening in the ecosystem."

Catch data alone do not necessarily reflect abundance, Branch explains, as catches are also driven by additional factors like economics, technology and fisheries management . For example, he cites the U.S. west coast, where "10 or 20 species have by this measure have completely collapsed." In fact, he notes, managers in that area have deliberately cut back on catches of those species. "Now those species are rebuilding, and many of them are not even overfished anymore, but the catches are still low," he says.

Researchers can more comprehensively evaluate an ecosystem by supplementing catch records with surveys of an area's biomass, and models, called stock assessments, which account for all available catch and survey data for individual species. "Wherever you have a scientific stock assessment, or the result of a rigorous scientific survey conducted using acoustic or trawl techniques, you should use that data as well," FAO's Cochrane says.

But stock assessments and scientific surveys are only available from a fraction of the world's fisheries—mainly high-value, intensely managed ones in the waters of developed countries. Often, catch data are the only information available. "It's the most globally available information—it's as simple as that," Cochrane says. He notes that the FAO is engaged in efforts to improve the quality and accuracy of global catch data, and to expand the world's library of surveys and stock assessments.

The authors of the new study argue that destructive overfishing by the industry has been masked by spatial expansion. "If people in Japan, Europe, and North America find themselves wondering how the markets are still filled with seafood, it's in part because spatial expansion and trade makes up for overfishing and 'fishing down the food chain' in local waters," said lead author Wilf Swartz , a PhD student at the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Center, in a statement.

"Fishing down the food chain refers to a supposed phenomenon in which commercial fisherman, when they first move into a new area, target larger, longer-lived fish until they are depleted, at which point they shift to smaller, less desirable species lower on the food web until all that is left are species near the bottom of the web. Fisheries scientists have accepted this occurrence since 1998, when a landmark study authored by Daniel Pauly and colleagues and published in Science, concluded that the average food-web position of the contents of global catches—known to ecologists as the mean trophic index—was declining.

The mean trophic index has since become the most widely-used indicator of ocean ecosystem health. In 2004 the Convention on Biological Diversity named it one of eight indicators that would be used to monitor progress toward the accord's goal of reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss.

But a study published in Nature, November 17, by Trevor Branch and colleagues, found that the decline in the mean trophic index Pauly had observed in 1998 is no longer present in the global catch data. Further, the study cites catch records, stock assessments and scientific surveys to show that in many cases the index does not correspond to the average food-web position of the organisms researchers directly observe in the ecosystem. On the contrary, Branch says, "just under half the time what you get from catches goes in the complete opposite direction from what you get from the ecosystems."

Pauly says the new PLoS One paper "completely invalidates" Branch's Nature paper because the authors failed to account for the spatial expansion described in the former. As fisheries move offshore, he says, they first target large fish high on the food web—just as they did closer to shore. "Hence, moving offshore will mask inshore declines in mean trophic levels."

Branch counters that the expansion paper actually reinforces his study's conclusion that mean trophic index is not a reliable indicator. "Fisheries expansion is just another reason why we shouldn't trust catches," he says. "That was the point of our paper—that we shouldn't be basing our judgment on catches."

The value of the mean trophic index depends on an assumption that is not supported by the available data, says Ray Hilborn , also a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at U.W., although not an author on the Nature paper. In particular, he notes, recent evidence suggests fisheries do not necessarily begin by targeting fish higher up on the food web, but often simply pursue the most economically valuable species, regardless of their position. "If you think about it, what is the most expensive stuff at the market? It's lobsters, scallops, crabs and things like that. It's not yellowfin tuna," Hilborn says.

If catch data are not a reliable reflection of what is happening in ocean ecosystems, does that mean Pauly's argument that eventually our oceans will be left only with jellyfish and plankton overblown? Again, the answer is complicated by the inconsistent quality of the available information. But in the places for which there is good data, it appears things are actually improving, says Bill Fox , vice president and managing director for fisheries for the World Wildlife Fund. "For the last decade we have been making great progress—certainly in the U.S., northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and many developing countries as well—in terms of improving the sustainability of fisheries," he says.

Hilborn agrees, citing a 2009 study in Science that brought together conservation biologists and fisheries scientists, and compiled multiple data sets—ecosystem models, stock assessments, trawl surveys and catch statistics—to assess the global state of fisheries. This study, on which Hilborn and Branch joined 19 other scientists as co-authors, showed that although the majority of commercial fish stocks for which there are data remain below target thresholds, fishing pressure has been reduced enough to expect that most of the ecosystems studied should be able to rebound to those thresholds.

Pauly, meanwhile, maintains the situation is direr, and compares current fishing practices with a Ponzi scheme. "It has been, throughout, a raid on the capital," he says, and it's happened under the cover of spatial expansion. "The supply has been guaranteed, and has been provided by expansion. When expansion is not possible anymore, how will we guarantee the supply?"

TRAFFIC Bulletin report on Abalone

Measures introduced in South Africa to bring the unsustainable and illicit trade in abalone were never given adequate support before they were withdrawn, finds a new study launched on 16 December 2010 in the TRAFFIC Bulletin.

Abalone are types of sea molluscs (known locally as perlemoen), in great demand in East Asia for their meat and shell. Overfishing and disease have caused serious declines in several species world-wide. Numbers of one species found only in South African waters, Haliotis midae, have declined dramatically since the 1990s, largely because of highly organized illegal plundering of stocks. The illegal fishing industry has known links to domestic drugs trafficking and Asian crime syndicates, with the majority of the catch smuggled to Hong Kong.

In an effort to regulate the harvest and prevent unsustainable and illegal exploitation of Haliotis midae, in 2007 the South African Government placed the species in Appendix III of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). An Appendix III listing is a means by which a country can ask for assistance from all other CITES member States to help control trade in a particular species.

The measure was aimed to highlight abalone trade passing illegally through neighbouring countries and was the first time CITES measures had been used to regulate international trade in any abalone species. “While it seems clear that the listing only had a temporary impact on illegal harvest and trade in the species, it was never properly implemented in South Africa and its potential as a regulatory and monitoring tool was therefore never properly tested,” finds the TRAFFIC study. The listing was withdrawn in May 2010 with the South African Government citing administrative difficulties, principally owing to misunderstandings around the role of the various government agencies in CITES permit endorsement.

“The withdrawal of Haliotis midae from CITES Appendix III is troubling as it appears to be based on institutional constraints, rather than a fundamental flaw in the CITES instrument and process,” said Markus B├╝rgener, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, and author of the report. According to B├╝rgener, the Government should investigate affording Haliotis midae and similar looking abalone species greater protection under CITES, backed up with adequate resources.

“Almost all abalone range States experience illegal harvest and a CITES listing could assist compliance efforts for species found in these countries,” he said.

The TRAFFIC Bulletin is available at

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Woeful Minister of Fisheries

The Editorial in the Cape Times this morning (21 December 2010) is a damning indictment of the failure of the Minister of Fisheries and her increasingly incompetent and reckless department in managing our lobster stocks.

As this blog has reported and re-iterated by the Cape Times Editorial, the Minister and her department are complicit in the continued destruction of lobster stocks which are now estimated to be at 3% of pristine by allocating a larger quota to the "interim relief lobster sector". Our lobster inshore stocks are in a substantially worse biological state than abalone. Instead of listening to her scientific advisers (who are the only professionally qualified fisheries managers left in her department) to not reward the interim relief poachers, shebeen owners, taxi drivers and the dead by increasing their quota from 53 tons to 200 tons, she is now the first fisheries minister in post apartheid South Africa to ignore her scientists. Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson can now hold her head in shame as she follows in the footsteps of various apartheid-era fishery ministers who allocated quotas against scientific advice and usually for questionable reasons.

What makes this Minister's mismanagement particularly sickening is that she tries to embarrassingly deny knowledge of the quota cuts for the recreational and commercial sectors (the job creators and tax payers) and the large increases for the poachers (who don't create jobs or pay any taxes)! But her signature is on the TAC document! Does she then admit that she signed the TAC document without applying her mind? If so, then her decision is unlawful!

Does this Minister not even have the courage of her conviction to defend her decisions? What an embarrassment. Perhaps fisheries should be returned to the Ministry of Environment where it was mismanaged less badly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Marine Anti-Poaching Project Launched

The Department of Fisheries launched the Marine Anti-Poaching Project on 14 December 2010. The project involved the training of 60 veterans from (predominantly) the ANC's military veterans wing, MK. Their training over the past 6 months involved surveillance, intelligence, investigation practice and risk assessment.

However, while their training lasted 6 months, the project has a budget that will end in March 2011 which will mean that these ex military veterans will only be "patrolling" the coast for 3-4 months.

We have previously derided the decision to use ex military veterans. However, given the desperate state of chaos in the department of fisheries, coupled with the growing number of cases of gross mismanagement, "quota" grabs and shenanigans involving the farcical interim relief process over the past few months, the comedy of deploying ex military veterans is almost welcomed. At least there will be 60 more officers patrolling the coast?

However, on a serious note what is of concern is that although there have been a number of arrests of poachers reported in the media by the South Africa Police and the Department Fisheries, we are not aware of a single case that resulted in jail terms and asset seizures. This is principally because of poorly trained criminal prosecutors who are unfamiliar with environmental and fisheries laws, a magistracy that is overwhelmed with criminal cases considered a greater priority than green crimes and an inclination by the Department of Fisheries to raise cash through plea bargains and quick settlements.

And then of course you have the Department of Fisheries itself contributing directly and indirectly to poaching by being significantly reliant on the income from the sale of confiscated fish and mismanaging the allocation of interim relief quotas to extent that it has.

Until these and other systemic crises are resolved, the use of MK vets to patrol our coast whether for 4 months or longer will simply serve as a band-aid for a multiple gun-shot victim.

Friday, December 10, 2010

DAFF Admits to TAC Manipulations

The Cape Times today reports (Pg6 "Something fishing in allocation of interim relief quotas for marine poachers") that when the Department of Fisheries (DAFF) was questioned on the apparent incorrect catch limits stated in the 2010/2011 west coast rock lobster TAC document signed by the Minister, DAFF confirmed that although 53 tons was allocated by the Minister under section 14 of the Marine Living Resources Act for the "interim relief" sector for the 2009/2010 season, DAFF allowed the sector to "utilise" 180 tons!

So DAFF simply nonchalantly admits to permitting a substantial breach of the Marine Living Resources Act and to large scale poaching of our lobster resource. What makes matters even worse is that documentation in Feike's possession shows that the west coast rock lobster industry association is of the opinion - based on the quantum of lobster that was caught, processed and exported by the commercial sector for the "interim relief quota holders" - that the interim relief sector in fact caught about 500 tons of lobster! This would amount to an overcatch of 1000%!

It bears repeating. DAFF oversaw and sanctioned an overcatch of 1000%. To compound this mismanagement, DAFF has opted to adopt the same strategy its predecessor did with abalone. It is now denying the extent of illegality, mismanagement and poaching by the interim relief sector by planting its head firmly in the sand. If we turn to the archives, we will see that Monde Mayekiso had stated on TV's Special Assignment programme that there simply was no crisis in the management of abalone and that poaching figures were greatly exaggerated. Once Mayekiso was removed, the "new DAFF management" did an about turn, recognising that abalone management was in crisis and that poaching figures estimated by Feike and organisations such as TRAFFIC and SEAWATCH were in fact correct.

How tragically (last year's) history repeats itself. Will we have to wait for a new faction of the ANC to remove the current faction (as they had removed the Mayekiso faction!) before the new faction also then accepts what we are now warning about?

Will the Minister of DAFF have the dubious honour of shutting down the lobster fishery as it collapses because of her inability to manage the resource she is entrusted under our laws to protect and manage responsibly? Lobster biomass in the inshore waters is estimated to be at about 3% of pristine, which is substantially worse than abalone.

And by the way, why does DAFF permit the export of interim relief quotas and allow these "inshore quotas" to be caught by offshore commercial vessels? What DAFF has succeeded in doing with the interim relief is create a large class of poachers and a larger class of paper quotas.

In our view, DAFF is increasingly becoming the single greatest threat to the sustainability of South Africa's fisheries.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Minister of Fisheries Fails on Performance

South Africa's official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has scored the Minister of Fisheries a failing 4 out of 10 for her performance as a Cabinet Minister during 2010. In 2009, she was scored a 7.

In the annual Cabinet Report Card, the DA states that "the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries continues to bumble around ineffectively because of Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s failure to take proper control of her department’s strategic direction. The DAFF needs strong and visionary management; anything less threatens the sustainability of the sector and the country’s food security. Minister Joemat-Pettersson has proven herself to be neither
strong nor innovative."

The full Report Card can be accessed at

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fisheries Mired in Chaos and Controversy

We had hoped (and prayed to gods) that with the official appointment of Tina Joemat-Pettersson as Minister of Fisheries in April this year and the removal of Monde Mayekiso as head of fisheries management, the fisheries branch (formerly MCM) would undergo a dramatic recovery as was promised by the Minister.

The events of just the past month (let alone the creeping inaction and failures since April) have confirmed that the only change was the name of the branch from MCM to fisheries. Mismanagement, allegations of corruption and gross incompetence have come to define the fisheries branch. In addition, the lack of professional and knowledgeable staff at the fisheries branch has meant that it has effectively been caught sleeping on numerous occasions. Its Minister failed to play any leadership role at the Second Benguela Current Commission meeting which is all about effective regional fisheries management; instead the Minister of Environmental Affairs and her staff took the reins. Both Angola and Namibia are led by their respective fisheries ministers. Earlier, the Environmental Affairs department humiliated the fisheries branch by unilaterally deciding to de-list abalone from CITES Appendix II. DAFF did not even know about the de-listing until Feike and TRAFFIC notified it about the de-listing! Then it did nothing.

In June, when before the Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries, the Minister stated that she was not responsible for fishing quotas and had to be embarrassingly reminded by a member of staff that in fact she was! The list is ongoing. Both comical and a sad indictment on how we tolerate such mind-boggling incompetence from Ministers and their high earning yet unsuitable staff.

And now - within the space of a month - we have admissions and contradictions about how a "connected" woman who lives in a wendy house and works in a fish shop was helped by the ANC fishing desk to get a 2 ton lobster quota despite not having any of the required resources to catch the fish and we have massive allegations about widespread nepotism and possible corruption regarding the compilation of interim lobster quota lists. The Department's admission that it in fact outsourced the allocation of these quotas to organisations such as Masifundise and Coastal Links is simply mind-boggling. The admission confirms that it acted illegally as the department has no legal authority to "out-source" the allocation of these quotas. Even more confirmation of the incompetence that surrounds us.

Some one help us in 2011.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Interim Relief Overcatch is 400%

The Department of Fisheries has conservatively estimated that the interim relief lobster quota holders harvested 285 tons or more than 400% more than the 53 tons they were allocated in 2009/2010!

To make matters even worse, instead of sanctioning or penalising the quota holders, DAFF has instead decreased the quotas to the commercial and recreational sectors (the most law abiding sectors) and rewarded the poachers with a 200 ton allocation in 2010/2011! In addition (and as is apparent from the blog article below), the interim relief quota process has been substantially corrupted and manipulated with many the recipients either involved in the commercial fisheries, employed full-time in other sectors of the economy or even deceased.

DAFF's increase in the interim relief quotas from 53 tons to 200 tons confirms that criminal activity and poaching are rewarded.

The Farce that is Interim Relief

There have long been allegations that many of the people granted an interim relief lobster quota are not fishers but have got onto the list due to the complete mismanagement of the process by the Department of Fisheries and/or because of their connections to those responsible for compiling the list.

The allegations of cronyism and mismanagement received greater credence when the Department of Fisheries recently published for "comment" its draft interim relief list. The department confirmed that the names on the list have been verified and thus represent deserving recipients of the interim relief lobster quotas.

A cursory glance at the names on the 84 page list reveals that a number of the intended recipients are certainly not deserving or in need of interim relief. Feike has analysed the recipients of interim relief in just one small area and found that many names on the list are of people who certainly should not qualify for "interim relief". We found names of people who are -

1. taxi owners;
2. shebeen owners;
3. permanently employed as shoreskippers;
4. fishing vessel owners; and
5. members, directors and shareholders of commercial fishing companies that have long term offshore lobster, hake long line and tuna pole commercial quotas.

There are even names of people on the list who are deceased.

These substantial anomalies in just one small area must bring into question the department's entire so-called "verification" process. Indeed, had the department undertaken the most basic verification (such as cross-referencing the ID numbers of interim relief recipients with the ID numbers of shareholders and directors on its own right holder database - if they still use it), a number of these anomalies would have been picked up.

What is clear is that the interim relief process has imploded into a quota grab as the department of fisheries has itself imploded into chaos and an inability to manage any of the inshore fisheries whether its abalone, lobster or line fish. The Minister needs to urgently show leadership and regain control over this farcical process.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2 year ban proposed on Taiwanese Abalone

Experts in Taiwan have suggested that Taiwan's aquatic farmers stop raising a popular type of marine mollusk to eliminate a virus that has nearly wiped out the entire industry. According to FocusTaiwan, almost all of Taiwan's cultivated abalone (Haliotis diversicolor) have been infected with a virus that has decreased the total harvest by 90 per cent.

Taiwan's annual production has fallen to 200 tons a year, down from 2,500 tons at its peak in 2000, he said. Many young abalone in cultivation began dying for unknown reasons nine years ago, and it was only after six years of study, that researchers found the abalone fry died from infection of two kinds of bacteria: vibrio parahaemolyticus and vibrio alginolyticus.

Not long after identifying the cause, mature abalone raised in northeastern Taiwan began to die in large numbers during the winter.The mass deaths were largely caused by being in waters colder than 22-23 degrees Celsius, in which the virus spreads quickly.

To date, no method to prevent the disease has been found.

The virus has also destroyed the abalone aquaculture industry in eastern Taiwan's Taitung County, which once accounted for 90 per cent of the country's abalone fry.

This story was adapted from

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Concerns raised with 2011 Lobster TAC

The 2010/2011 total allowable catch (TAC) for the west coast rock lobster fishery indicates a 100 ton decline in the TAC from the previous season. In 2009/2010 the TAC was set at 2393 tons; in 2010/2011 the TAC has been set at 2286 tons. While the overall decline is hardly newsworthy, what is of considerable concern is the manner in which the hopelessly flawed and mismanaged interim lobster relief is being accommodated.

Firstly, the interim relief quota of 200 tons (an increase of 20 tons over the previous season) is made possible by reducing the deep-water commercial lobster and recreational quotas. The recreational quota has been reduced by limiting the daily take limits and the length of the season. This curtailment is particularly problematic as the department failed to consult with the sector as is required by law. The departmental TAC document (which Feike has) records a number of concerning comments from the department's own senior managers. Some of these are as follows:

"I am concerned though that we do not have an idea as to what extend the season for recreational fishers should be amended to. We may also not have sufficient time to consult..."

Another senior official noted as follows:

"The report regarding the level and accuracy as well as the malpractices associated with interim relief catches is concerning and must be properly addressed."

This latter statement is of particular interest. The report referred to has not been made public and the reference to "malpractices" and the lack of accurate information pertaining to catch data are of grave concern. Yet, the department sees fit to increase the interim relief quota without in any way first addressing the "malpractices" and the lack of reporting. DAFF has effectively taken to punishing those that comply with the law (the commercial and recreational sectors who are the most law abiding of the lobster sectors) and rewarded the most deviant.

The second concern is that by allocating the "interim relief" lobster fishers quota in deep water areas, DAFF is merely supporting the creation of paper quotas as small scale fishers simply cannot fish these deep waters with a little row boat and hoop nets.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sonjica Replaced as Minister of DEA

On Sunday 31 October Minister Buyelwa Sonjica was replaced by Ms Edna Molewa as Minister of Environmental Affairs. Ms Molewa inherits a department mired in controversy and in need of urgent and efficient leadership.

For many applicants in the boat-based whale watching and white shark cage diving sectors, the hope will no doubt be that the new Minister stops the chaos and confusion that has defined the DEA's management of these two sectors to date.

It will be an inevitable consequence of the Cabinet reshuffle that the appeals in these two sectors will be delayed even further. The delay may not be all negative as we would advise appellants to lobby the Minister's office directly, impressing upon her the need to urgently correct the numerous legal and factual errors that have been made in the evaluation of applicants to date.

The Minister needs to also urgently get a handle on the reasons why openly illegal boat based whale watching operators such as Raggy Charters in the Port Elizabeth area continue to receive the "protection" they do from prosecution and sanction. It has been exposed by this blog and other media that - for example - Raggy Charters' BEE partner is a senior SANParks employee and SANParks is responsible for managing the Bird Island MPA where much of the PE boat based whale watching industry is based.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Has a Fishing Company Been Hijacked?

We are all no doubt familiar with the now infamous hijacking of Kalahari Resources by Sandile Majali (previous funder of the ANC with our taxes) and two of his partners who appear to have been mental patients. It would now appear that with the help of certain leading ANC members in the Western Cape, a black owned Hout Bay fishing company has now also been hijacked. The story goes as follows.

In early 2009, the directors of Greys Investments Ltd approached Feike for assistance in attending to certain regulatory and governance matters. Feike agreed to assist on a pro bono basis as Greys Investments Ltd had a 2 ton lobster quota but also had 197 shareholders (12 of whom are now deceased). Greys Investments Ltd had previously been mismanaged by a series of boards with the result that by the time the shareholders met in Hout Bay in 2008 and elected the current board of directors, Greys could not uplift its fishing permit as it owed the SA Revenue Service (SARS) more than R80 000. No fishing permit meant that it could not fish which meant no income.

As recently as 4 weeks ago, Greys was unable to secure its tax clearance certificate as discussions continued with SARS regarding a re-payment plan. This all the while as 185 shareholders awaited some income as shareholders of a fishing company allocated a long term fishing right.

On 26 October 2010 Mr Maxwell Moss of the ANC Fishing Desk announced to a meeting of fishermen in Hout Bay that the ANC had assisted Muriel Davids (aka Marianne Brown, a former director of Greys accused of mismanaging company funds who was replaced as a director by shareholders) get "her" quota back. The fishers at the meeting raised serious concerns about this as Muriel Davids has no connection to the Hout Bay community as she lives in a wendy house in Darling and works in a fish shop which should have ordinarily excluded her from getting a fishing right as she is not reliant on fishing. So how did Ms Davids wangle a 2 ton lobster quota?

On 27 October 2010, Feike consulted the west coast rock lobster inter-area schedule to determine how the ANC could have legally "given" Ms Brown/Davids her quota back. The inter-area schedule indicated that Greys' lobster quota was now held by a close corporation called MAB & Sons Commercial Fishing CC (2009/053271/23). MAB is the acronym for Marianne Brown - the acronym for Muriel Davids would either have been MUD or MAD. Davids is the sole member of MAB and has no access to a fishing vessel or any fish processing or marketing capabilities. She appears to be nothing more than a front or paper quota which is unlawful under our fisheries laws.

Feike then contacted the Department of Fisheries and was informed that Greys' fishing quota was transferred out of Greys to MAB on the authorisation of the Deputy Director-General of Fisheries in September 2010. It would appear on the face of it that officials at Fisheries based their decision on the fact that there was a resolution signed by the shareholders authorising the sale of shares and the transfer of the fishing right from Greys to MAB. In return MAB apparently paid each shareholder R1000 or a total of R185 000 although the conservative market value of the lobster quota is in the region of about R600 000.

Feike then proceeded to canvass as many of the shareholders of Greys to determine whether they did in fact sign the resolution and whether they received their R1000 payment. We requested every shareholder to acknowledge their response in writing and to append their signature next to their response. Of Greys' 185 shareholders, more than 90 confirmed in writing or verbally that they had not attended any special or general meeting of Greys where a resolution could have been lawfully taken to dispose of Greys' lobster quota; they had not signed any resolution; and they certainly had not received a R1000 for their shares. Indeed, Ms Davids, living in a wendy house in Darling and working at fish shop, could certainly not afford to pay R185 000 to the shareholders of Greys. Ms Davids' own mother and sister (as shareholders of Greys) have also confirmed in writing that they did not consent to the sale of their shares and neither did they receive a R1000 for their shares.

The conclusion must be that Marianne Brown (aka Muriel Davids) has acted unlawfully and perhaps even criminally by forging the signatures of 185 poor Hout Bay fishers and dispossessing them of their quotas by submitting a falsified transfer of fishing right application under section 21 of the MLRA. But did she act on her own or with the assistance of others? Chatting with Davids, it would be immediately apparent that she could not have concocted this scheme on her own.

So what role did the ANC Fishing Desk play? Why did Maxwell Moss state to a meeting of local fishers that the ANC had assisted Ms Davids/Brown get her lobster quota back and how does the ANC get to do this? Moss even admitted to the Sunday Times that the ANC Fishing Desk did help Davids get "her" quota back. And what role did DAFF officials play in the hijacking of the Greys lobster quota which has denied 185 black fishers their right to benefit from a national resource? Perhaps most importantly, will the ANC and DAFF now stand up and assist the 185 shareholders (as the lawful and legitimate holders of the lobster quota) get their quota back?

We will be monitoring this closely. We expect an apology from the ANC Fishing Desk and an investigation by Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson to determine if her officials acted unlawfully and on instructions from the ANC Fishing Desk.

See the Sunday Times for more -

Monday, October 25, 2010

Comments on Draft Policy Extended

The date on which written comments on the draft small scale fisheries policy are due has been extended to 5 November 2010. The same comment procedure applies.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small Scale Fishers March to Parliament

Small scale fishers marched to Parliament on 19 October to voice their opposition to the Department of Fisheries' proposed small scale policy. They handed over a memorandum detailing their objections (see article below) to the new the Deputy Director-General of the fisheries branch.

Another SACFC??

Women fishers oppose "community" quotas

The fishers hand over their memorandum to the new DDG of Fisheries (left, black suit)

Is there a point to DAFF?

The Department of Fisheries (DAFF) has been in existence since June 2009 when the new administration recognised the critical ecological and socio-economic relevance of marine fisheries and fish farming. Fisheries was then unbundled from the department of "environmental affairs and tourism". However, between June 2008 and April 2009 fisheries was left in limbo as the departments of environment and fisheries fought a bitter turf battle to control fisheries and the marine living resources fund.

In the end although the administration of fisheries was moved back to the department of fisheries, the administration and management of fisheries is - frankly and honestly - in complete chaos and free-fall. DAFF and DEA have admitted that neither one actually knows who is in charge of what? Is DAFF in charge of fisheries? Is DEA in charge of the fish in marine protected areas? Is DEA in charge of managing sharks and whales? But don't these fish and mammals subsist in a "fisheries environment"? DEA stated in the Sunday Times (17 October 2010) that DAFF is NOT in charge of fisheries conservation! Can you believe that? Talk about the epitome of utter ignorance and stupidity.

So what is DAFF in charge of? Fisheries non-conservation? Huhh? Then of course Marine Week in October went by and DAFF was nowhere to be heard of or found. The WWF recently published its revised SASSI list which listed South Africa's MSC certified sole trawl fishery as orange (essentially saying it and a host of other fisheries are poorly managed, which they are not), and DAFF remained silent, which may yet cost the industry a couple thousand jobs and untold reputational damage but these are minor issues compared to the importance of factional battles. Many in industry are actually now referring to Industry and WWF as the de facto regulators of SA fisheries.

Other than costing the SA taxpayer and the fishing industry about R500 million annually in salaries, international business class flights to meetings and conferences, staff bonuses and Christmas parties, it is still unclear wPublish Posthat is the purpose of the Department of Fisheries. Oh, they do hold many important meetings and workshops!

Opposition to the Small Scale Fisheries Policy Grows

More than 2000 small scale commercial and traditional line fishers represented by organisations including the South African United Fishers Front (SAUFF), traditional line fishing organisations and the South African Abalone Industry Association are now united in opposition to the draft small scale fisheries policy primarily on the basis that this policy proposes to allocate rights to "communities" instead of individual fishers and the drafting of the small scale policy has to date completely ignored the interests and investments made by the more than 2000 small scale commercial and aritisinal fishers.

Feike has previously pointed out on this blog that by seeking to implement a "community" or co-operative quota system, the draft policy was doomed to fail as "community" quotas are a romantic fallacy of a bygone era and allocation of quotas to co-operatives had repeatedly proved to be a spectacular failure perhaps best highlighted by the South African Commercial Fishermens Corporation (SACFC) and the Kalk Bay Harbour Lights Company.

Opposition to the draft policy by fishers has grown recently after fishers realised that the department of fisheries would be seeking to force small scale fishers to operate in co-operative structures and that the initial statements by departmental officials that right holders in co-operatives would earn more money for their quotas were shown to be false.

Co-operatives cost ordinary fishers a lot more money either through corruption and mismanagement as in the SACFC case or simply because now fishers must pay for the administration of large, corporate structures with board members who expect large fees. There is little doubt that should the department foist the concept of co-operatives on small scale fishers, the only people to benefit will be those that are presently promoting this failed concept.

It is important to note that of the three people at the forefront of lobbying the department and the Minister in support of co-operatives and the draft policy, two were directly involved in previous failed fishing co-operative ventures that denied thousands of fishers access to their quotas and income. The remaining lobbyist, Masifundise Trust (represented by Mr Naseegh Jaffer), is on record in an affidavit to the Cape High Court as stating that fishing co-operatives - large or small - are doomed to fail. One must ask why they now so fervently support fishing co-operatives?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area to be opened to fishing?

In 2007, the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Rejoice Mabhudafasi tried to sneak recreational and subsistence fishing into South Africa's oldest marine protected area, the Tsitsikamma MPA. However, once the media exposed her attempt to further threaten an important nursery for line fish stocks, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, was forced to abandon the idea. The media expose unleashed an avalanche of adverse opinion from WWF, the department's own scientists and academia that showed how ill-advised such a decision would be - whether from a biological or socio-economic perspective.

However, various sources now confirm that Mabhudafsi - still the deputy minister of environmental affairs - is attempting a second covert attempt to get "recreational" and "subsistence" fishers access to the Tsitsikamma MPA.

In 2007, the nub of the argument against opening up the MPA to fishing was based on a report by WWF which was accepted by the Department of Environmental Affairs. This report essentially stated that according to research conducted by the WWF, the total economic value of the MPAs along the Garden Route is estimated at R421-million. Opening up parts of Tsitsikamma would result in an overall net estimated loss of R31-million. Relaxing protection would result in a 16% decrease in visitors, which translates to a direct economic loss of R4,7-million a year. But the value of fish extracted from previously closed areas was likely to yield a once-off value of only R4-million, before fish stocks were degraded to levels outside the park. The WWF report confirmed that the benefits of fishing would also be extremely short-lived, and it is estimated that the natural capital built up in these areas would be fished down in approximately 33 fishing days.

In other words, Mabudhafasi was prepared to destroy the biological benefits of having a protected area and which have been reaped over a period of more than 5 decades for 33 days of populism. And what did she have planned for the local communities that denuded an MPA after the 33 days of benefit? Open another MPA? Make more destructive, populist and pointless promises?

And let us not forget that fisheries management is the prerogative of the Department of Fisheries - not Environmental Affairs. So Mabhudafasi cannot lawfully allocate fishing rights. More importantly, the fish under protection in the MPA are line fish stocks that were declared to be in a state of environmental crisis in 2000 with most stocks at below 5% of historical biological pristine levels.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Herald GM Citizen of the Year Nominee is a Feike Client

Mr Rainer Schimpf of Expert Tours CC, based in Port Elizabeth, has been nominated as The Herald GM Citizen of the Year. Rainer Schimpf wants to make people realise the beauty and vulnerability, as well as the potential, of the diverse marine life the Port Elizabeth region has to offer. Schimpf, an avid diver, offers diving tours in the Algoa Bay area through his company Expert Tours. In his spare time, he tries to raise awareness for the marine environment through his work for Ocean Messengers, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

The enormous potential of starting up a diving tourism business in Port Elizabeth was the reason for Schimpf and his family to make the move from Germany to South Africa in 1999. For the full story, see

This story was originally published by the Eastern Cape Herald newspaper on 22 September 2010.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

DAFF Consults Abalone Industry

The Department of Fisheries held an important consultative meeting with abalone right holders to discuss a range of administrative, management and compliance issues. During the meeting the Department confirmed that 96% of the 150 ton quota had already been fished.

The meeting which was very well attended raised a number of important discussion issues including the following:
  • The conditions issued by Cabinet for the opening of the fishery. It is unclear why these conditions were presented to the right holders at the end of the season as opposed to in June (before the fishery opened);
  • Administration of the fishery. The Department sought to encourage right holders to work with the Department by providing the correct information required to process applications and clarified time frames;
  • An integrated security strategy and MCS. The Department reconfirmed its intention to partner with the National Intelligence Agency to root out poaching by investigating organised criminal syndicates. However, as many right holders noted, these promises of an integrated security strategy and an MCS strategy for the abalone fishery were previously made and have not been fulfilled. It is also not clear why the National Intelligence Agency needs to be involved when the South African Police and its Hawks division is charged with investigating organised criminal syndicates.
  • Co-operative management. The Department once again put forward its intention to manage small scale commercial fisheries under a co-operative management type structure. DAFF officials initially promoted the idea with the carrot to right holders that they would receive substantially more for every kilogram of fish. This is of course is nonsense as buyers in China and Hong Kong simply do not operate on this basis and let us not forget that government made the same promises in the 1990's in support of the establishment of the SACFC co-operative which not only failed miserably but of course did not earn the fishermen more money for their fish - in fact they got substantially less as under a co-operative, they had to pay administration and management levies and all sorts of other costs.
  • TURF management. The Department once again mentioned that it views the territorial user rights fishery (TURF) management system as a failure without providing any evidence of this view (although we note that it oddly supports TURF management in its small-scale fishery policy). The TURF management system in the abalone fishery has not worked because the Department unilaterally (and unlawfully) decided to stop implementing it in 2004/2005 so as to appease certain right holders whose fishing zones were being depleted and allowed these right holders access to zones that were being properly managed by the TURF management committees that were set up for the zones. To abandon TURF management for inshore small scale fisheries management would simply invite the chaos, mismanagement and illegality that has defined the abalone fishery since the Department stopped implementing the abalone fishery policy and its TURF principles.
Despite abalone poaching levels remaining high, the abalone fishery is bound to remain open and right holders should continue to fish for the remaining 2 seasons left of their long term rights which are set to expire at the end of 2013.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Can You Rely on the WWF-SASSI List?

The pocket guide SASSI list has been a remarkable success since its launch a few years ago. It successfully got a generally apathetic seafood consuming public to actually start making responsible choices about seafood which in turn forced retailers - restaurateurs and supermarkets - to procure sustainably managed fish.

Its most recent re-incarnation has however raised a growing chorus of questions about its reliability and the methodology underpinning its categorisation of fish. An immediate concern raised by, inter alia, Prof John Bolton of UCT is the inclusion of farmed fish on the SASSI-list. Farmed fish of course is not wild and therefore not harvested and therefore should have no place on the SASSI (which is a sustainable seafoods list) guide. However, as Prof Bolton correctly points out, the SASSI list for example lists the non-native Pacific Oyster (wild and farmed) as a green species. In other words, WWF-SASSI is telling SA seafood consumers that consuming the non-native Pacific Oyster is highly recommended because it is a species that is sustainable and responsibly managed. This is plainly false! As Prof. Bolton notes, the farming of pacific oysters is known to spread alien and invasive species. The wild harvesting of oysters along South Africa's coast is considered to be particularly problematic with almost no research on the status of the species and recognition that oyster populations in the inter-tidal zone in the Southern Cape have been almost completely denuded. For that reason, while most fisheries were allocated rights of up to 15 years in 2005, the oyster fishery was allocated a maximum of 3 year long rights. And despite these very real threats to sustainability, SASSI tells us we can eat oysters with a clear conscience. Common sense tells us that wild harvested oysters should be on the orange list at the very best!

Another significant concern with the WWF-SASSI list is that it lists South African sole, which is part of the hake trawl fishery as an orange listed species. What is odd about this listing, is that sole is listed as orange but the hake that is caught with the sole by the very same vessel is listed as a green species! Hake caught by the trawl fisheries is certified by the European based eco-label, MSC, as being sustainably and responsibly caught. Indeed, the hake trawl fishery is one of South Africa's best managed and most comprehensively regulated fisheries (not to mention our most valuable fisheries as well). WWF-SASSI has attempted to justify the listing of sole on the orange list on the basis that the hake-inshore trawl fishery is apparently responsible for killing some 8000 endangered albatrosses although this figure is not supported by any data from the industry, the Department of Fisheries or an independent fishery observer programme.

Another example of SASSI's questionable fish categorisation methodology is the listing of abalone as an orange listed species. This effectively equates sole - an MSC listed fishery that is fully regulated by the Department of Fisheries and that has had a sustainable and constant TAC since 1992 - with abalone which is a fishery in effective free-fall where the TAC fell from 600 tons in 2000 to zero in just 8 years! Abalone is the most poached fish stock in the world; it has no management, recovery, research or compliance plan; it was until very recently listed on CITES Appendix III and it is described by the South African government as a fishery on the verge of "commercial extinction".

SASSI's listing of South African MSC certified sole as orange has effectively shut down the commercial trade in sole, threatening the jobs of more 1400 fishers and investments worth more than R172 million. The consequence is that SASSI effectively promotes the consumption of foreign imported soles which may be less sustainably managed and not part of a certification programme like MSC.

Can you really rely on the WWF-SASSI guide to choose responsibly? We do not believe you can.

WWF SA Perpetuates a Myth

Earlier in September, the WWF-SA supported the launch of the film "End of the Line" which premises its forecast that most commercial fishing stocks will be fished to extinction by 2048, which is itself based on a 2006 paper in Nature by authors Worm et al. The Worm et al paper's major scientific claims have since been heavily rebutted globally and even the authors themselves have accepted that their paper's claim about 2048 is flawed. But WWF (and incidentally Investec) continued to support a film whose message is a lie and a fraud committed against seafood consumers. As an aside, one must question whether Investec would proffer advice to their clients knowing the advice to be false or widely contradicted and therefore unreliable?

In response to a Cape Times article titled "SA Scientists slam no-fish-by-2048 claim made in film" (reference to the "End of the Line" film), the WWF's Samantha Petersen continued to assert the myth that "80% of the world's fish stocks were either exploited to their maximum, over-exploited or collapsed according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation."

Is this really true? Does the FAO data show that 80% of fish stocks are in such great peril as the WWF would scare us into believing? No. The FAO data shows that some 27% of fish stocks are either overexploited (19%) or depleted (8%). A further 70% of fish stocks are maximally exploited (52%) and moderately exploited (18%). One percent of global fish stocks that were depleted are recovering. The fact that the absolute majority of global fish stocks (52%) are maximally exploited is confirmation of responsible and appropriate fisheries management systems. The objective of responsible fisheries management is to strike a balance between providing access to an important food source which fish is and maintaining the health of the marine ecosystem. Maximum catch limits and maximum effort allocations seek to ensure this balance. The recovery of depleted and overexploited fish stocks remains an international commitment.

In South Africa, of our 22 commercial fisheries, the traditional linefishery remains in state of "environmental emergency" with some 39 commercial and recreational line fish species considered being collapsed but these species have been subject to comprehensive recovery and management plans since 2001. In addition, abalone - having been on CITES Appendix III - remains a fishery of great concern principally as there is no reliable science on the status of the species and because it remains the most heavily poached fishery in the world. It is interesting and important to note that none of the large commercial fisheries are considered to be in peril or overexploited or in any way poorly managed.

The WWF's insistence on harvesting a false fear about the imminent collapse 80% of fish stocks must raise questions about its commitment to responsible environmental management.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Draft Small-Scale Fisheries Policy: A Recipe for Failure

The publication of the draft small-scale fisheries policy recently for comment confirms what this blog and other commentators have been warning against. The lack of professional fisheries managers and institutional knowledge at the department of fisheries has resulted in the publication of a dangerously flawed draft small scale fisheries policy.

There are two fundamental and overarching flaws with the draft policy in our opinion.

The first flaw is that the draft policy pretends that the more than 2000 current small scale commercial (or artisinal) fishers that have a variety and - yes - basket of high value commercial fishing rights from abalone, lobsters, hake, net fish to oysters and mussels do not exist. The draft policy suffers from a misnomer that because the Marine Living Resources Act does not explicitly name "small-scale commercial" or "artisinal fishers" as recipients of fishing rights, they therefore have been completely ignored. In 2001, the South African government gazetted policy which explicitly recognised that the commercial fisheries of South Africa comprised a large scale industrial sector and a small-scale commercial (or limited commercial) sector which are small-scale commercial operators. In the 2005 General Fisheries Policy, the South African government further cemented its commitment to promoting and protecting small scale fisheries by, inter alia,

  • clustering all inshore, small scale commercial fisheries into a cluster of 8 high value fisheries including hake handline, lobster inshore, net fish, traditional line fish and oysters;
  • reserving access to these sectors to individual small-scale fishers who were vetted as small scale fishers by their very own communities through a public process of provisional rights lists overseen Deloitte; and
  • allocating a total of more than 2200 long term fishing rights to small-scale commercial fishers. This comprised 73% of all the fishing rights allocated.
This is not to say that all small scale commercial fishers that applied for fishing rights were accommodated. Indeed, the majority of applicants were of course refused fishing rights simply because the amount of fish available for allocation paled in comparison to the demand. The Department's draft policy seeks to accommodate those that are screaming loudly now but fails to recognise that the 2200 small-scale traditional fishers that are quietly going about their daily business of fishing and supporting more than 10 000 dependants directly cannot simply be wished away. Replacement of quota holders with those that are the loudest screamers today will only create another army of screamers tomorrow.

If the Department wishes to accommodate more small-scale commercial fishers the Minister has various options. She can of course ignore or amend the scientific advice provided to her and allocate larger TAC's in the small scale sectors which will allow her to allocate the additional quota (in terms of section 14) to new right holders. For example, could she not increase the inshore lobster quota east of Hangklip? Scientific advice must not be considered beyond question.

The Minister could also aggressively pursue a new fisheries policy and investigate the opening up of new fisheries that could create more jobs in the sector, attract greater levels of investment and of course provide her with the opportunity of allocating high value fishing rights to west coast and eastern Cape coast fishers. In 2004, Marine and Coastal Management had identified some 12 new fisheries. Perhaps the Minister could convince her advisers to dust off some of that research and start creating jobs and allocating more rights without taking rights away from existing small-scale operators.

The second and even more significant flaw is that the draft policy once again espouses the allocation of small-commercial fishing rights to co-operatives, trusts and "fishing communities". In terms of the Marine Living Resources Act, co-operatives cannot be allocated fishing rights and for good reason as the practice in South Africa and abroad has shown that they do not work! Further, the notion of the "fishing community" is a fallacy today. They might have existed between the 16th and mid 20th centuries but definitely not today as increasingly fluid populations migrate in and out of coastal towns, cities and villages undertaking various forms of economic activities.

Clearly, the department of fisheries is unaware of the social catastrophe that followed the financial plunder of the South African Commercial Fishing Corporation (SACF) which operated as a co-operative.

SACFC was allocated some of the most valuable and largest abalone, lobster, squid and hake quotas in the industry in 1998 after repeated calls by politicians and campaigners in the industry to empower "artisinal fishers". Essentially, there is no difference in the populist rhetoric then as we hear today! SACFC had 3000 members in 25 co-operatives along the West coast, southern Cape coast and Eastern cape coast. From the very start, the grandiose political promises about jobs for all co-operative members and wealth creation through quotas began to fade as less than 500 members saw any income from SACFC. And when they did see any income it was exploitative. For example, lobster fishers would earn about R20 for a kilogram of lobster with the balance of between R80 and R100 going to the "co-operative" - or as we now know into the pockets of board members.

By the time the 3000 members forced Parliament's portfolio committee on environmental affairs to hear their plight in 2004, the SACFC board had made off with million's of rand earned from the "paper quota" sale of their valuable quotas. SACFC was not allocated any long term fishing rights. None of the board members were forced to repay their ill-gotten gains to the fishers and none of the 3000 fishers received any form of reparations except that a number of them were allocated long term fishing rights when they applied as individual fishers in 2005.

What is deeply concerning to the small-scale commercial fishing industry along the west coast for example, is how committed government is to implement failed populist policies of the very recent past.

The failures of and problems with SACFC have been documented in various reports by UWC, Noseweek and of course parliamentary records of the submissions made by representatives of the 3000 fishers who were robbed of their livelihoods. Moreover, Naseegh Jaffer of the Masifundise Fishing Trust, in a 2004 High Court affidavit, stated that co-operatives (when referring to the failure of SACFC), large and small, are doomed to failure and that when government forces artisinal fishers to operate in these structures, conflict is inevitable. He is completely correct - co-operatives are doomed to failure.

Lets not ignore the costly social and economic lessons of our very recent past.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zita appointed DG of DAFF

Mr Langa Zita has been appointed as the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) according to a press statement issued by the Minister of DAFF on 6 September 2010. Mr Zita is a former chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee responsible for fisheries oversight and should therefore provide the critical stewardship that the fisheries branch requires during this difficult period.

Articles on this blog have repeated the number of challenges facing the commercial (both large-scale and small-scale artisinal commercial fisheries). Mr Zita will undoubtedly be called upon to set out a suitable policy tone to support the more than 40,000 jobs supported by the fisheries sector and the more than R12 billion in investments in infrastructure. Mr Zita's role will be particularly important in the immediate future as the fisheries branch continues to limp along without any professional fisheries managers in senior management roles.

As an aside, the Minister mentioned that she was off to China to discuss certain agricultural trade issues. We do note that there is no mention of including any fisheries management and trade issues on the agenda. For example, since her counterpart in Environmental Affairs unilaterally decided to remove abalone from CITES, the Minister could have raised the issue of the 4,000 tons of illegal abalone that was imported into Hong Kong last year worth R4 billion and what mechanisms the two countries could implement to reduce the illicit imports. This would have a direct financial benefit for South Africa's coastal abalone communities such as Hawston. Another issue that could be discussed is the expansion of SA access to Chinese oyster, finfish, lobster and (farmed) abalone markets. South Africa could do with directing some of its seafood exports to China while Europe tries to recover. Then there is also issue of attracting Chinese investments in abalone ranching opportunities in the Minister's home province, the Northern Cape.

Maybe for the next trip? Hopefully its soon.

IUCN Submission to the LOS Tribunal

By letter of 9 June 2010, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) requested IUCN, in its capacity as an intergovernmental organisation, to participate in the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority and to provide a written statement to the Tribunal on Case No. 17 concerning Responsibilities and Obligations of States Sponsoring Persons and Entities with Respect to Activities in the International Seabed Area (Request for Advisory Opinion Submitted to the Seabed Disputes Chamber). This was perhaps the first request for an Advisory Opinion submitted to the Seabed Disputes Chamber of the Tribunal.

As a matter of policy, the Case has raised issues that IUCN, on behalf of Nature, believes are of importance. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted as a package to be accepted as a whole. In the Convention it is recognized that the problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be considered as a whole. Through the Convention a legal order for the ocean has been established to facilitate international communication; to promote peaceful uses of the ocean, the equitable use of marine resources, the conservation of marine living resources and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Among issues raised is a question of the scale of liability of a sponsoring State for activities associated with a contractor’s mining operations that may affect the water column above or adjacent to a seabed activity. A policy question arises as to whether acceptance of a limitation of liability of a sponsoring State in this Case may have any effect on this or other obligations of States under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or on other instruments that protect the marine environment. IUCN strongly believes that obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment are as important as rights under the Convention and should be at the centre of any considerations of ocean management. Natural biodiversity, healthy ecosystems and human well-being depend on healthy oceans. We cannot afford to put additional stress onto the marine environment if we wish to continue to enjoy the benefits that the oceans provide us.

The invitation to IUCN and to other intergovernmental organisations represents a first opportunity for such organisations to provide submissions to the Tribunal. Several distinguished jurist members of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law from its Oceans, Coasts and Coral Reefs Specialist Group provided legal reflections on a pro bono publico basis.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MCM Remains Rudderless

More than 7 months since President Zuma signed the proclamation appointing the Minister of Fisheries in charge of marine and coastal management, the branch continues to be - as one ANC member of Parliament put it - led by actors! The head of the organisation is an acting deputy-director general (the third actor since January). Neither does MCM have a chief director of the critical post of fisheries management nor a chief financial officer. Their are dozens of director posts in research and fisheries management that continue to remain vacant.

The lack of professional fisheries managers, fisheries economists and fisheries researchers is having an obviously profound adverse impact on fisheries management.

Firstly, we still have no idea what the Minister's intentions are with regard the management of our commercial fisheries, the restructuring of marine and coastal management and the expansion of marine and freshwater fish farming except for some very vague and ambiguous statements in her last budget speech (but nothing substantive since).

Secondly, there is the shattering silence on a range of critical domestic fisheries management issues such as the near complete collapse of the hake long line industry, high levels of unregulated and unmanaged fishing in the lobster sector, even higher levels of poaching in the abalone fishery and general chaos in the small scale commercial fisheries which has allowed for a number of questionable opportunists with known poaching backgrounds to take advantage and secure areas of influence. For example, the number of convicted poachers or those known to be engaging in illegal fishing that attended the Minister's budget vote dinner in April this year was alarming. And of course nothing be said of the fact that in a matter of less than 36 months commercial fishing rights need to be allocated in the squid, line fish, KZN prawn trawl, large pelagic, shark demersal, beach seine and a number of other fisheries.

Thirdly, as is the case with domestic fisheries management, DAFF is confusingly silent when it comes to international and regional fisheries management. For example, DAFF has no policy position on the upcoming Benguela Current Commission Ministerial meeting on 2 September 2010 and appears to have deflected its role in this critical regional fisheries management toward the environmental department. The same applies when it comes to fisheries management at CCSBT, ICCAT, COFI, IOTC, ASCLME, the Abidjan Convention, SEAFO etc.

So besides allocating the odd fishing permit and unhelpfully pronouncing on the performance review process, it remains a mystery as to what precisely we can expect from the "new" fisheries branch some 16 months after the establishment of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Perhaps we can expect a functioning fisheries website soon?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Second BCC Ministerial Conference

The second Ministerial Conference of the Benguela Current Commission (BCC) is scheduled to take place in Cape Town on 2 September 2010. While the Minister's of Fisheries from Namibia and Angola will attend as representatives of their respective countries, it is unclear who will represent South Africa. It could either be the Minister of Fisheries or the Minister of Environmental Affairs.

The first Ministerial Conference took place two years ago and addressed a number of critical institutional arrangements affecting the management and administration of the BCC. The second Ministerial Conference will no doubt have to address the fundamental issue of adopting a final agreement establishing the BCC as the current BCC was established in terms of an interim agreement. A final agreement is required in order to secure long term and sustainable funding for the various regional marine ecosystem projects and for administration and operational costs.

The second Ministerial Conference will also be attended by fisheries ministers who have never previously participated in the BCC and they may wish to stamp their respective marks on the objectives of the BCC and the projects undertaken over the next two years at least. For example, the various funded BCC projects have a complete bias toward research and marine science with no emphasis on fisheries management or understanding the socio-economic relevance of fisheries and marine aquaculture in developing countries. If the BCC is to remain remotely relevant to the economies of Angola, Namibia and South Africa, this skewed bias toward research and science will have to be corrected.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

BBWW and WSCD Diving Appeals

On 18 August 2010, the Department of Environmental Affairs issued a letter to appellants and stakeholders in the boat-based whale watching (BBWW) and white shark cage diving (WSCD) sectors confirming that a "large number of appeals" have been received and the department is unable to provide any indication as to how long the appeals process will take.

This is hardly surprising. Firstly, in terms of an appeals process the Minister and her department do not have any legal framework in which to consider, evaluate and decide the appeals. If we recall, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and her department do not have the legal authority in the first place to actually evaluate applications in these sectors (but they insisted on doing so). In defending their perceived authority, the DEA conceded that it does not have any authority to act under GN Regulation 1111 of September 1998 (the fisheries regulations). Regulation 5 of the fisheries regulations stipulates the procedures to be followed and implemented when dealing with appeals in terms of decisions taken under the Marine Living Resources Act. Feike has repeatedly argued that the DEA's contention that it has the authority to act under provisions of the MLRA is deeply flawed and this is just one practical example of this flawed logic.

Secondly, the appeals have undoubtedly forced the Minister into a very uncomfortable corner as her legal advisers would no doubt have advised. Notwithstanding that she does not have the actual legal authority to regulate the BBWW and WSCD sectors, the "non-decisions" (or provisional decisions) taken by the chief director of DEA are deeply flawed for a number of reasons, which have been outlined in earlier articles on this blog. Principal among these is the "false hope" created by "provisionally" allocating permits to a number of new entrant applicants who - based on their own applications - employed no one, have no financial history or track record and simply expressed broad intentions and hopes with regard to conducting a successful BBWW or WSCD operation. The provisional decisions to exclude a number of exemption holders in the WSCD sector for example appear to be so deeply flawed based on fact and law that should the DEA persist in excluding these operators that are employers, have invested multiples of millions in vessels, infrastructure, websites, domestic and international marketing relations etc, litigation will be the inevitable consequence.

For these reasons, the Minister may want the status quo of allowing exemption holders to operate to continue for as long as possible while she undoubtedly "applies her mind" to the appeals before her. We are of the opinion that the appeals process may take a further 6 to 9 months before decisions can be expected from the Minister.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

1.6 tons of Abalone Confiscated

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) reported that it had successfully issued detention orders on two cargo ships that were headed to Hong Kong. One of the ships was found with cargo of 1.6 tons of abalone on board which is assumed to have been harvested illegally. The second ship's arrival in Cape Town is expected in the next week.

The action by SARS is to be highly commended as it indicates the use of intelligence and information networks which are essential to reducing the scourge of poaching. The costs that will be incurred by the poaching syndicate will be substantial if one considers the lost costs of freighting, processing and up-front payments to runners and poachers. However, the individual or entity that exported the product must be publicly named and prosecuted. Further, the damages suffered by the shipping companies concerned and its clients who would also have been shipping products to Hong Kong should also be claimed from the exporter of the illegal abalone.

Of side interest is the fact that SARS has valued the abalone at R2500/kg. It is noted that the SARS statement referred to the confiscation of some 28000 units of abalone, which means that the poached abalone must have been frozen and not processed into the more valuable dried form. This makes the valuation of R2500/kg extremely high.

However, if this is the official valuation now being used by the South African government, the loss of approximately 3500 tons of abalone to poaching in 2009 then equates to R8,7 billion.

Monday, August 16, 2010

US Commits to Integrated Coastal and Marine Management

The Marine Ecosystems and Management newsletter (Aug 2010) reported that in July, US President Obama, signed an executive order establishing a national ocean policy for the US which is the country’s first comprehensive, integrated policy for stewardship of its oceans and coasts. The policy launches a process of coastal and marine spatial planning for the nation, and coordinates the various ocean-related activities of more than 20 federal agencies under a new and centralized National Ocean Council. The President’s action reflects the recommendations of a federal task force that explored ways to promote long-term conservation and use of ocean resources.

It is therefore noteworthy that in South Africa we have been doing the very opposite and will be (mis) managing our marine and coastal resources in a disintegrated and ad hoc fashion and contrary to all professional and scientific advice provided to government! South Africa's ill-advised mismanagement strategy of our oceans and coast will of course have serious and adverse socio-economic consequences for the sustainability and well-being of coastal communities in the long-term. We wonder who will be blamed and made the scapegoat by government then?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Abalone Quota Holders fish entire quota in a morning

Many abalone quota holders east of Cape Hangklip have caught their entire annual quota in a single morning usually between about 8am and 11am. One processor in the area confirmed that of the quotas it has arrangements with for processing about 50% or 20 tons have been harvested over a period of about 9 fishing days.

Although clearly happy with their legal quotas, many quota holders have expressed concerns that the department of fisheries has yet to develop a compliance and management strategy for the fishery more than 30 days into the harvesting season. For example, fishery compliance officers are still unsure how to deal with quota holders that land slightly more than their allocated quotas as quota holders cannot carry a scale on their vessels. Quota holders have prudently suggested that the normal tolerances should be allowed for (about 10% of the legal catch limit), alternatively, that over-catches be allocated to fellow quota holders and deducted from their permits. Further, catch allocations across the TURF's appear haphazard and do not comply with the abalone fishery policy of 2003 and also the inter-area schedule that was reluctantly made available by the Department and after the abalone industry association threatened legal action.

Of greater concern is the fact that when the fishery was opened back in June 2010, the Minister of Fisheries stated that the commercial fishery was opened subject to "conditions" by Cabinet. To date, these conditions have not been made public and neither has a management plan been discussed with right holders to curb poaching and increase research and management budgets for the fishery.

Many right holders have commented that they found it strange how they were able to fish their entire quota in 3 hours even in areas where the Department has admitted poaching is rifest. Perhaps it is time that the Department of Fisheries employs an independent research team of biologists, quota holders, NGO representatives and quota TURF representatives to undertake annual research surveys into the ecology of the stock.

It has been estimated that by the time the legal quota of 150 tons is harvested (probably by month-end), approximately R52 million would been earned by right holders directly and re-invested in the coastal communities.

Pilchards required for Processing Factory

A South African processor is seeking to purchase approximately 500 tons of pilchards on an urgent basis.

If you have 500 tons of quota available please contact Feike.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Zita Set to become DG of DAFF

Former environmental portfolio committee chair Langa Zita is set to become the next director general of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. According to well-placed sources in the department, Zita's name has been forwarded as first choice to Public Services Minister Richard Baloyi and Cabinet for approval.

Zita has a strong background in the South African Communist Party, is said to be a close ally of Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi and has been one of Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson's closest advisers in the past few months.

Zita was not initially in the running for the position, after Njabulo Nduli left the department last year. But by the time a second round of interviews took place, he was closely involved in departmental decision-making and had emerged as favourite.

Not everyone is happy with Zita's looming appointment. Factions in the department who oppose him are worried about his management skills. Other department officials said that while they were sceptical at first about his quick rise in the department, they had grown to respect his socialist background and described him as an intellectual who cares deeply about pro-poor and agricultural issues.