The last two months of 2010 witnessed the collapse in the price of South African lobsters on the international market by more than US$20/kg. The collapse in price has been blamed on the large scale illegal fishing by the interim relief sector dumping excess and poor quality lobsters on both the domestic and international markets.
Industry sources have advised how the interim relief quota "management" process has simply been overrun by corruption, bribery, overfishing and a complete lack of monitoring. What is of greater concern is the easy access that has been gained to these quotas by organised gangs, including TRIAD elements, as they replicate their organised abalone poaching activities in the lobster sector.
Feike has been advised that these operators offer cash for the interim relief quotas and simply harvest the quotas themselves for substantial profit as the quota holder is paid a few hundred or thousand rand. The cheap price at which the quota is obtained allows these illicit operators to then market the lobsters both domestically and internationally for a substantially lower price than a legal, tax-paying quota holder that also employs people. The result has been devastating as the price of lobsters fell from about US$50/kg to less than US$30/kg in a few weeks. In addition, the strength of the rand has further threatened the sustainability of smaller legal commercial operators.
Of course DAFF will deny that the interim relief quota process is a mess with no monitoring and large scale corruption and mismanagement. We need only remember that they had also flatly denied that abalone poaching was a crisis or of concern.
This is what is actually happening on the west coast (perhaps the Minister of Fisheries could bother to actually go to the west coast landing sites unannounced and witness what she and her departmental officials are complicit in):
- Interim relief product is being landed without any monitoring or recording of catch data;
- Landing slips are almost never signed off by a fishery control officer;
- There are no inspectors at most landing sites in any case;
- Where there are any "monitors", they simply witness and observe the chaos when lobsters are landed and then leave the chaos noting that they will not get involved;
- The so-called white slips are not signed by either the permit holder or a monitor;
- The landed weights of the lobsters are never recorded on the landing slip, which farcically states that the recording of this weight is "OPTIONAL"! How does the department think they are ever to know how much fish is harvested by the interim relief sector if recording the landed weights is "optional". Talk about the ostrich head in the sand!
- The department requires a 7 working day period to issue an export permit (excluding the the frequent "technical" delays that occur). This means that product landed on a Thursday, for example, will in the best possible scenario have an export permit some 13 days after landing. The ensuing tank mortalities and cannabalism resulting from these delays is devastating. This results in substantially less money being paid to quota holders who inevitably simply poach more to make up the difference.
Lobster buyers have also advised that the unregulated landing of product has all but destroyed the local market. Before the time of the interim relief product, it was almost impossible to sell illegal product onto the local market, as hawked product was more often than not easily identified as illegal because of its poor quality (and because it was hawked). The vast quantities of illegal product from the interim relief sector is now being channelled into the local market at ridiculously low prices. The illegal prices has forced down the local price of lobster to levels that are currently less than or equal to the catching and processing costs of legally caught product.
DAFF's incompetence and collusion in this regard will inevitably result in job losses; increased poaching, devastation of our lobster stocks, liquidation of legitimate right holders and the destruction of the South African lobster brand on the international market. DAFF and its predecessor - MCM - successfully did this to abalone. Unfortunately lobster was next in their sights.