The levy charged by the Department of Fisheries on commercial wild harvested abalone is more than R31/kg, which is about 10% of the landed value of abalone. The abalone levy is substantially higher (as a percentage of the landed value of the fish) than all other commercial fish levies. In 2003/2004 the abalone levy was increased from R6/kg to R25/kg in order to fund a dedicated abalone management and compliance strategy aimed at reducing abalone poaching.
The increase which was authorised by both the Minister of Environmental Affairs (who was in charge of fisheries - Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) at that time) and the Minister of Finance (as is required under the Sea Fishery Act of 1988) was premised and justified on the following bases:
1. The commercial abalone industry had been consulted and had largely agreed to the increase in the levy;
2. The increase was necessitated at the time to fund an important interdepartmental initiative to combat illegal harvesting of abalone. This interdepartmental initiative was dubbed Operation Trident and had an operational budget in 2004 of R18 million (or 20% of the entire fisheries compliance budget at the time);
3. Operation Trident involved the participation of the department’s of justice and safety and security. The justice department would provide specialised environmental courts in Hermanus and Port Elizabeth while the safety and security department would deploy an additional 70 police officers to the Overberg region who would focus efforts on combatting abalone poaching.
4. Due to the lack of budget provision by the departments of justice and safety and security for these additional costs, it was agreed that MCM would fund the establishment and operation of the environmental courts and the deployment of the extra police officials on an interim basis until the respective departments had properly budgeted for these extra costs.
The increase in the abalone levy was always intended to be a temporary but emergency stop-gap measure aimed at the immediate funding of Operation Trident. For reasons that were never explained to the public, Operation Trident was abruptly terminated by MCM in 2005. The environmental courts ceased to operate and the deployment of the 70 additional police officials failed to materialize. There is presently no form abalone compliance or management strategy in place justifying the current levy of more than R32 per kilogram.
It is now long overdue that the abalone levy be adjusted downward. To continue charging the current levy must amount to irrational and unjustifiable administrative action and therefore unlawful.