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.