The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) announced on 4 May 2010 that it would be allocating a further R6 million in compensatory relief payments to the 302 commercial abalone right holders. This equates to approximately R19 000 per right holder, excluding the divers' respective "bakkie" assistants. In her statement, the Minister wisely noted that her department will not be using any intermediary consulting company to facilitate the payments to the divers - instead her vast financial department at MCM will presumably ensure that every cent of the R6 million is transferred to the right holders.
While the R19 000 will no doubt be appreciated by right holders, these "social grant" payments are not the solution. The solution remains the reopening of the fishery which was supposed to have been a reality by 1 February 2010. It is now Winter and the much vaunted promise of an abalone fishery this year has effectively faded away. This R6 million could have instead been used to subsidise the purchase of vessel monitoring systems for diver vessels and used to purchase 2 powerful rigid inflatables for anti-poaching surveillance and enforcement.
It is unclear why the promises made in November last year and repeatedly since have not been kept. It is known that MCM's scientific data shows that a sustainable TAC of up to 212 tons can be harvested. There have been rumours that a revised proposal suggested a TAC of approximately 150 tons. MCM has also not taken the opportunity since November last year to take the industry and coastal communities into its trust, keep them updated on developments, explain why there have been delays and ensure that the industry is communicated with regularly and honestly through established channels such as the scientific and management working groups which have to date never met to discuss any of the numerous challenges facing an industry in economic and biological crisis. The lack of communication and honesty about the opening of the fishery (if indeed this is to ever happen) has only deepened the significant distrust of MCM by right holders and spurred even more right holders to join the ranks of the poacher - as it is they alone that continue to benefit from the present hiatus.
We already anticipate that 2010 will be a bumper year for poachers, which could witness South Africa losing another 3500-4000 tons of abalone to the illegal market worth approximately R3 billion.