On 19 April 2011, the Minister of Fisheries addressed the National Assembly on her department's annual budget vote. Of the department's total budget of over R4 billion, the fisheries branch is allocated R324 million for the 2010/2011 financial year. Although less than 10% of the global departmental budget, the allocation may signal a relative return to health for the marine living resources fund as this amount is slightly less than the 2004/2005 operational budget. However, it is unclear from the budget vote if the R324 million includes staff salaries - if it does, then the MLRF remains in a desperate downward spiral as salaries would consume at least 50% of the operational budget, which will explain the parlous state of management, the chaotic administration and the lack of strategic fisheries compliance, particularly in our offshore waters.
The budget vote also confirms a Minister and her senior staff to be completely out of touch with the fishing sector. We all know that despite having been appointed as the Minister of Fisheries in June 2009, this Minister has carried her title in name only having never met or briefed either the fishing industry or her staff at Foretrust on her policy objectives and intentions!
Perhaps she has neither objectives nor intentions for the successful management of the sector. Her knowledge base of the industry is near zero. Contemplate this quote from her budget speech-
"I am pleased to announce that our increasingly scarce sea resources, under huge international threat, will be better protected by having declared 9% of our coastline as prohibited zones, and up to 3% of our offshore zone as no-fishing areas."
Firstly of course our sea resources are hardly under "huge international threat". Rather, our marine resources are under greatest threat from extensive mis-management, disastrous (populist) policy statements (such as the draft small-scale fisheries policy) and the abandonment of inshore fisheries management by DAFF. Just check which fish stocks are either overexploited, subject to open access unregulated fishing or have collapsed and all of them are inshore stocks like abalone, lobsters, some 50 species of linefish, east coast rock lobsters, oysters, sharks etc.
Secondly, we don't have any "prohibited zones" - there is no such thing in our fisheries laws. We assume the Minister is talking about marine protected areas and in this regard just over 20% of our coastline is protected by MPA's while we still do not have any offshore MPA's in place! Where the Minister gets her stats from remains a mystery. Maybe the lack of any institutional knowledge and professional fisheries managers around her?
Perhaps of greater concern is that this budget vote is silent on critical management issues such as the performance review process for which tax payers paid more than R9 million two years ago, the lack of any indication as to the allocation of commercial fishing rights in a host of fisheries where rights are due to expire in 2013, how large-scale poaching in the inshore sectors such as the interim relief lobster sector will be curbed, the future of vulnerable fisheries such as abalone and hake long line, which are just two of the most transformed and empowered high value fisheries or how the administrative chaos afflicting the issuing of permits and collection of levies will be addressed.
Here's hoping that before the next budget vote, this Minister will have taken the time to meet with her staff at DAFF and with quota holders in the 22 commercial fisheries in this country that employ over 40 000 people and contribute substantially to black economic empowerment and regional socio-economic well-being.