The first abalone management working group meeting for the year was held on 26 May 2011. Attended by the abalone zonal representatives and departmental officials, it emerged during the course of the meeting that fisheries compliance remained the most problematic. Rather, as one zonal representative put it, there in fact is no compliance at all and where fisheries control officers were seen (at least in the Buffels Bay area) they were always talking to or helping known abalone poachers.
The department's muted response to the raft of allegations and examples of compliance failures was that it was developing a comprehensive integrated fisheries compliance strategy! Another representative noted that like everything else the strategy would stay in the boardroom. And that is true especially since the department does not have the financial resources to implement any effective compliance strategy, the industry was never asked to contribute to the development of the strategy and neither does DAFF have the support and trust of right holders.
The department's refrain that right holders must "work with" and "partner with" the department was rightly scoffed at. The representatives repeated example after example of reports of poaching submitted to the department but to date none have been followed up on or investigated.
There is little doubt that the department's direct financial interest in large scale abalone poaching to fund its coffers clouds its role as a regulator and protector of our resources.
The representatives present at the meeting noted significant concerns with compliance officers' lack of knowledge and understanding of the law (as this blog has noted previously), a growing sense that fishery officers are more concerned with the absolute mundane such as the colour and size of lettering on vessels than with size of fish caught etc (as this would clearly require more work and understanding of the law and permit conditions) and the comical state of resources at the disposal of officers. In particular, some officers are so incompetent that when they arrive at slipways to monitor and weigh landings (if they bother arriving at all), they forget to ensure that the scale batteries are charged. The ensuing delays seriously threaten the value of the abalone.
Scales purchased just 12 months ago have been irreparably broken, which results in either officers bringing broken scales to slipways or none at all. The Department confirmed that it has ordered more scales (but it would help to also employ competent staff who don't break the scales!).
Finally and perhaps most worrying was the continuing number of abalone poaching incidences. Two examples provided by representatives showed the serious extent of poaching. The first has been reported to the department for years but repeatedly ignored. Approximately 50 poachers launch from Pearly Beach on a regular basis with each diver known to harvest no less than 30kg of flesh weight (100kg of whole weight) on each trip. If one estimates that they fish 3 times a month on average (considering that they may not fish at all during a bad winter month but may fish almost daily during good summer months), this one group could harvest about 180 tons of abalone illegally on an annual basis. A smaller group of 20 poachers operates at Buffels Bay. Using similar assumptions, they could illegally harvest 70 tons annually. So just two groups who have been given free reign by DAFF to poach, are taking more than twice the legal TAC.
And DAFF refuses to do anything about it.