What is this commercial fishing industry performance review process supposed to be about?
Unfortunately the department of fisheries (DAFF) does not seem to understand its purpose, intent and what DAFF's legal limitations are in this regard. DAFF's institutional confusion on the matter cannot be surprising. Afterall, there is no longer any institutional memory left within DAFF that understands why the "performance review" clauses were included in each of the policies (and of course we will not expect anyone at DAFF to consult the Cabinet minutes of June 2004 to determine why that meeting which was chaired by then Deputy President Zuma agreed to adopt the current suite of fisheries policies). In addition, DAFF does not have a permanent senior management team to speak of (save for the much maligned scientific researchers) that are conversant with fisheries management. Yes, they all mean well, but professional fisheries managers they are not and that is what DAFF needs; not well meaning generalists who need to still "learn" about fisheries - learning takes place at junior entry-level positions not at senior management level.
So with this in mind, the recent vague statements from DAFF about a " fishing rights review" process do require interrogation.
Firstly, there is no legal provision authorising the Minister or DAFF to review the long term fishing rights granted to right holders. The recent statements attributed to members of the ANC in a recent Financial Mail article for example about revoking fishing rights would simply amount to an illegal "quota grab". The fishery policies are quite clear on the matter. The performance of right holders with regard to a number of socio-economic and ecological criteria need to be assessed so as to ensure that management systems remain valid. Fishing rights can only be revoked, cancelled, suspended or reduced if a right holder breaches a provision of its fishing permit or a provision of the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) and the breach in question is of such a serious nature as to warrant the administrative action taken.
Fishing rights were never allocated subject to any conditions, let alone conditions related to transformation, specific performance levels and so forth (as the MLRA does not allow for conditional allocations). Similarly, the annual fishing permits are not allocated subject to any specific transformation or performance levels. Accordingly, the much threatened "quota grab" would only lead to the instability and chaos that characterised the fishing industry in the 1990's and result in job losses, factory closures and greater loss of confidence in the fisheries economy. The Minister has afterall recognised the significant harm caused to fishing communities as a result of the ill-advised decision taken by her predecessor to close the abalone fishery. A repeat of this on a substantially larger scale cannot be allowed.
Secondly, the performance review process and the request for information (RFI) forms fail to ask the questions that the Minister and DAFF clearly want answers to. The Minister is clearly (and rightly so) concerned about employee working standards, pay, benefits, trade and value adding and broader socio-economic issues affecting the industry. And of course these concerns are sector specific. The RFI forms do not ask a single pertinent question relating to -
- worker pay levels;
- worker benefits such as medical aid, pensions, study allowances etc;
- executive remuneration and bonus structures;
- the average age of fishing vessels by sector;
- fish factory throughput levels;
- marketing structures and markets;
- what prices are paid for fish from right holders;
- fish values and product variants subsequent to processing;
- where the maximum levels of beneficiation occur;
- whether eco-labelling add value to fish products and how does increased values support jobs etc;
- staff training, development and upward mobility;
- community / local investments;
- what regulatory and government support is required; or
- what policy adjustments or changes are required to support economic growth in the sector.
Instead, the RFI's request the most general and irrelevant data which is not even comparable to the data submitted in 2005 which means that DAFF will not be able to coherently measure changes that have occurred since 2005.
For example, in 2002 and again in late 2004 Marine and Coastal Management undertook two substantive studies of the industry post the medium term rights allocation process. Those studies indicated the following (for example) in the hake trawl industry:
- In 2002, the hake trawl industry employed more than 5700 people; by 2004 this had increased to just over 8800 people;
- In 2002, the sea and factory workers earned an annual average wage of R63000; in 2004 this had increased to R74000;
- 60% of hake trawl products were consumed domestically and 40% exported to the Europe, USA and Australia;
- 82% of the trawl catch was processed on land where the majority of jobs were created.
The performance measuring process is a R9 million indulgence designed by consultants and overseen by bureaucrats with little or no knowledge of the fisheries socio-economy and management needs. It will neither assist the Minister of Fisheries understand the socio-economic relevance of any fishery sector; nor will it allow DAFF to design any management strategies to support the economic value and growth of any fishery sector.