Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paying your fish levies...Is it the right thing to do?

Why do you pay your annual fishing levies? In terms of section 10, read with section 11 of the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998 (MLRA), the levies paid into the marine living resources fund shall be applied to the realisation of the objectives of the MLRA which are set out in section 2.

Put simply, levies must be applied to fisheries administration, compliance, management and research. There is near unanimity across the commercial fisheries sector (poachers and the interim relief sector excluded) that fisheries management, administration and compliance is almost non-existent. The processing of annual fishing and export permits are a costly and bureaucratic headache and has increasingly become an obstacle to fisheries trade.

DAFF is incapable of supporting and promoting the growth and profitability of the fisheries sector. Indeed, as previous articles on this blog have shown, DAFF is a direct hindrance and threat to the commercial viability of the fisheries sector. And in the case of abalone and lobster, DAFF competes directly with these fishery sectors it is supposed to support and regulate by competing directly with right holders to gain access to abalone and lobster buyers in Hong Kong and China.

We are therefore of the view that -

1. DAFF has failed and continues to fail to carry out its mandate as stipulated under section 2 of the MLRA but continues to collect levies from right holders;

2. In a sector like abalone, DAFF is a direct competitor to the legal abalone fishing industry. DAFF is able to control the issue of permits, use the funds it collects from abalone right holders to determine access to markets, use its authority and power to gain preferential access to buyers and dictate its own "compliance" and "management" measures which allows it access to larger amounts of illegal abalone which it then sells to fund its operational requirements. This is a fundamental breach of the MLRA and the universally accepted role of a fisheries regulator.

DAFF has therefore relinquished its right to legitimately collect levies which it essentially uses to prejudice right holders and not provide the services and carry out its obligations as required under the MLRA.

It is our view that right holders should stop paying levies to the MLRF. However, as levies are prescribed by law, these amounts should nonetheless be paid but they should be paid into trust accounts which are overseen and administered by appointed representatives of a particular fishery sector (such as the recognised industrial bodies of particular fisheries). In this way, right holders will be able control the expenditure of funds in order to realise the objectives of section 2 of the MLRA and the specific objectives set out in each fishery sector policy.

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