Have you ever wondered why on earth abalone poaching is so completely out of control? Perhaps we can offer some insights.
On 3 February 2011, the SA Abalone Industry Association alerted the Department of Fisheries' top management, including the Chief Director of Compliance, Suzan Leseke, that "four large RIB's packed with abalone poachers have launched today at Buffelsjags (Zone A). Furthermore it is reported that this type of activity has been taking place on a daily basis, often involving
5 or more RIB's. The vessels are typically kept at Buffelsjags with the divers commuting in."
The Association's alert continued by stating that "...we must emphasize that this area has remained a serious problem for many years. We have on record requests for assistance made to MCM dating back to 2007 which were never acted on. We therefore insist that your department immediately take meaningful action to terminate this illegal activity."
Having received such a clear and credible tip-off, one would have thought that the DAFF would have immediately dispatched a team of enforcement officers to the area to halt the poaching and arrest the divers.
But that is expecting too much from the DAFF (daft?). Instead, reality prevailed and the Chief Director of DAFT's compliance division issued a gem of an email some two and a half hours later stating the following:
"I acknowledge receipt of your concern and have copied my PA so that she can arrange an urgent meeting next week to discuss way forward.RegardsSuzan"
Four large RIBS could easily harvest about 4 tons of abalone. Perhaps even more given that DAFT has given them until "next week" to poach. Suzan Leseke's email is the clearest indication of the extent of the institutional failure that prevails at DAFF.
So why and for what legitimate reason do abalone right holders (or that matter any right holder in any fishery sector) pay fish levies? Our advice to the fisheries sector would be to stop paying levies to the DAFF until such time that it gets it management house in order, is able to account fully for every rand received and spent and begins employing professional fisheries managers who are actually able to manage South Africa's fisheries.