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.