The Minister, through her media liaison officer, Mr Selby Bokaba, has responded to the opinion piece published by me in the Cape Times on 3 June 2011. The Minister's response is published in the Cape Times of 10 June 2011 on page 11.
The Minister, as can be expected, attempts to refute the various grounds upon which we motivate for an assignment of her powers to the Western Cape government. The Minister's response however does not address any of the substantive issues we raise and in fact confirms that our inshore fisheries are in crisis and that a section 78 assignment under the Marine Living Resources Act is desperately required in order to rescue fisheries management.
1. The response confirms that all the senior management posts we referred to in our opinion piece are in fact filled on a temporary basis and that there has not been a permanent DDG of fisheries since the resignation of Monde Mayekiso in 2009. Accordingly, for almost two years, the fisheries branch under the current minister has been without a permanent head and accounting officer. The fact that the minister considers regular changes of DDG's as a positive is alarming to say the least! The fact that none of the acting DDG's had any fisheries management knowledge or experience appears irrelevant.
2. The response also confirms that the minister has never met with the fishing industry since her appointment in June 2009. The response does state that the minister has met with "fisheries management" on numerous occasions. It does not however explain why the minister remains completely out of touch with the realities of mismanagement on the ground. Perhaps the most embarrassing and concerning case is her false response to Parliament about her department's illegal collection of fish levies without issuing any invoices - a practice which continues to this very day despite it being a criminal offence under the VAT Act!
3. The response furthermore confirms the crisis affecting our inshore fisheries but notes that "a plan is in place" to rebuild stocks such as lobster. Well, that is news to us all especially as the mismanagement of the interim relief lobster "sector" continues unabated and unchecked. One needs to only pop into one of the many west coast fishing villages to witness unregulated and unmanaged interim relief lobster landings. And the Minister intends rewarding the illegality and rampant overfishing yet again by increasing the interim relief TAC by another 50 tons.
4. The response does not dispute a number of damning failures including the fact the department failed (ie forgot) to re-allocate commercial fishing rights in the oyster and mussel sectors - sectors aimed at empowering rural women in particular.
5. The response alleges successes in the fight against illegal fishing but fails to provide any statistics yet baldly alleges that "poaching of abalone worsened dramatically" under "Moolla". However if one has regard to the relevant statistics, the views of industry, academics and NGO's in the fisheries sector at the time, then the minister will yet again be proved to be out of touch with reality. It is common cause that between 2003 and March 2005 the successes of the now defunct environmental courts coupled with the TRIDENT anti-poaching project yielded massive successes that included a 75% conviction rate and the collapse of two regional abalone poaching syndicates led by Marx (Overberg) and Ross (Eastern Cape). Both syndicate leaders received lengthy jail sentences and forfeited millions in assets and cash to the state. The minister fails to tell us how many syndicates have been collapsed or syndicate leaders jailed since 2005 (or since 2009). She also conveniently fails to tell us how many of the hundreds of poachers that are arrested, have been CONVICTED and sent to jail and how many in fact have simply walked free to continue poaching.
6. The use of the military veterans has not bolstered fisheries compliance as any right holder would testify. Just consider the examples of blatant poaching in Buffels Bay and Pearly Beach and the failure of the fisheries branch to even respond to right holder pleas for support. If one considers the latest budget for the fisheries branch (as we have on this blog), the parlous state of the marine living resources fund remains undeniable. Why does DAFF not publish the complete budget for the fisheries branch, including allocations for research, administration, compliance, management and vessel deployment? Further, departmental staff have themselves confirmed as co-authors of a recent 2011 publication on the abalone fishery that "...no stock rebuilding strategy, cooperative law enforcement and compliance plan had been announced." The department simply does not have a compliance strategy or plan in place for inshore fisheries management.
7. Finally, the minister's response makes certain personal allegations against me. For example, the response refers to me as a "self-styled sole fishery expert". I have never styled or described myself as such. The Minister in fact described me as a fisheries expert in a memorandum to Cabinet where she used my advices and opinions to support a particular position of hers. She may want to refresh her memory in that regard. Secondly, the minister makes the bizarre statement that during my tenure at MCM, we were never supportive of artisinal or small-scale fisheries! The entire policy framework that is currently in force in South Africa was adopted by (an ANC) Cabinet (not me or Horst Kleinschmidt!). Further, this policy framework has ensured that of the 3000 commercial fishing rights allocated more than 2200 are exclusively allocated to small- scale commercial fishers; that their long term application fees were pegged at a few hundred rand (such as R400 for a 10 year lobster right) while a company like I&J paid in excess of R2,5 million for the hake trawl application alone! In addition, we did not provide right holders with the shocking levels of (mis)-management, (mal)-administration and disrespect that small-scale right holders are served on a daily basis.
Thirdly, it was her staff who approached me repeatedly for advice and assistance with regard to the management of abalone, the processes to be followed to reopen the fishery and for solutions to address the parlous state of her fisheries branch. If my views and opinions are so irrelevant and incorrect, perhaps Mr Bokaba could advise why in a recent email to me, he wrote -
"Shaheen,We need to have a follow-up chat with a view to making serious changes in the way fisheries is being run".