MEMORANDUM BY COMMERCIAL ABALONE FISHERS
TO THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE FORESTRY & FISHERIES: 13 OCT 2011
We are legal and law-abiding commercial abalone fishers who have been completely ignored by you and your officials at the Department of Fisheries. Even though you were appointed as the Minister of Fisheries in June 2009, you have NEVER EVER met with the abalone industry; consulted with us regarding compliance, management or recovery of abalone stocks. You and your department have completely forsaken our social and economic well-being.
This memorandum raises only our most critical concerns and we demand that as the Minister responsible for fisheries, you now finally take responsibility for implementing measures to address these concerns.
DAFF STILL BENEFITS IMMORALLY FROM POACHING
Your department (DAFF) continues to rely on the sale of confiscated abalone to fund a substantial part of its operational budget. This is extremely immoral IF NOT illegal. It is a fact that it is in DAFF’S financial interests to ensure that large scale poaching continues and more and more product is stolen and then confiscated so that DAFF can sell the poached product for PROFIT.
It is a shocking fact that the legal abalone fishery must compete with DAFF for buyers especially since DAFF continues to sell sub-standard product at substantial discounts to export markets. This is ruining BRAND SOUTH AFRICA and the ability of law-abiding abalone right holders to earn a living and to continue to provide employment.
We demand that:
• DAFF's financial interest in poaching be terminated immediately!
• Confiscated abalone be made available to the legal abalone rightsholders so that it can benefit the industry that rightfully should have harvested it (if DAFF had done their job and protected it from poaching in the first place)
COMPLIANCE IN COLLAPSE
One of the key “conditions” imposed by Cabinet for the re-opening of the commercial abalone fishery was the reduction in poaching levels and improved compliance. Yet, the Chief Directorate: MCS is in a state of implosion and does not even have a permanent head of MCS. Your own officials have admitted in a recent (January 2011) publication that the department has no compliance strategy in place to protect abalone.
• Despite numerous regular “tip-offs” provided by abalone divers and members of the public of day-light poaching in areas such as Llandadno, Hout Bay, Buffels Bay, Perly Beach etc, your officials have NEVER responded effectively to any complaints.
• The so-called Overberg abalone “hotline” is never answered and just rings. It serves no point at all.
• Due to the mismanagement of the Marine Living Resources Fund, your department no longer has the budget required to implement a compliance strategy. Despite requests for access to the Compliance budget, we have still not been provided with this.
• Fishery control officers are poorly trained and lack basic understanding of the law and what is required of abalone right holders under permit conditions. Proof of this is the number of prosecutions your department has lost and the number of cases prosecutors & magistrates have thrown out of court.
• Fishery control officers are not allowed to work over weekends and after 4pm! This is ludicrous in the extreme. Slipways and harbours are routinely being left un-monitored, allowing for large-scale poaching of abalone, lobsters and line fish.
• Although we regularly hear of “arrests” of poachers and syndicates (such as the 19 poachers recently arrested and the 29 arrested years ago for poaching at Robben Island), they are not prosecuted, fined the maximum of R800,000 and their assets are never confiscated. Arrest of poachers is meaningless if they simply walk free.
• The use of the environmental protection vessels is a waste of time and money. They were not designed for inshore patrolling. They are huge, costly and too slow to stop abalone poachers who use high-speed RIBS.
• The continued use of the “military vets” for compliance is an embarrassment and smacks of nothing more than cadre deployment. They are shockingly trained and lack basic knowledge about abalone enforcement strategy and monitoring. We are not aware of a single case where they have apprehended poachers or stopped poaching.
We demand that you and your staff urgently engage with abalone right holders to immediately develop an effective multi-faceted compliance strategy. We want –
• the Green Courts back;
• effective monitoring and surveillance of hot-spot areas and slip ways;
• the deployment of high-speed rubber ducks to combat sea-based poaching;
• to work with well-trained and competent FCO’s to reduce poaching.
ABALONE RESEARCH? WHAT RESEARCH?
Has your researchers provided you with comprehensive research analysis and data on the non-existent abalone fishery recovery strategy?
Your researchers have NEVER undertaken any proper underwater research on abalone fishing zones such as Zones E and G. How is this possible? How can they provide you with any form of reliable and adequate data on our abalone resource?
Have you received annual data analyses on how abalone stocks are doing in protected areas such as the Betty’s Bay MPA? We assume not.
Why is industry excluded from studying any of the ‘’research reports” that inform the TAC proposals you receive. Do you get to read and study these research reports? The abalone industry has repeatedly tried to obtain access to these “secret reports”. Why are they a secret? Perhaps because they are based on such factual fallacies that they fear industry would expose?
We demand that you and your staff urgently engage with abalone right holders to immediately develop an effective abalone research and recovery strategy which should have been put in place in 2009! We want –
• to partner with your researchers to provide them with the support (including free use of our vessels as we understand they do not have the funds to hire vessels) needed to undertake proper research in EACH of the 7 fishing zones; and
• to participate in and be consulted adequately (as required by law) on the annual TAC proposals.
THE ABALONE FISHING POLICY OF 2003 IS STILL LAW: WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR TURFs?
The abalone fishery is governed by the Abalone Fishery Policy of 2003 which requires abalone right holders to be allocated fish based on the TURF system.
• Why have you and your department unilaterally and unlawfully abandoned implementation of legally binding policy?
• Why are officials employed who cannot produce the proper inter area schedules and who claim that it would take months were they to attempt to do so?
• Where is the co-management of the fishery that you speak of all the time? Why is DAFF so unwilling to cooperate with the abalone fishing industry?
• Why do your officials act as obstacles to the effective management of the abalone fishery? For example, why has it taken more than 2 seasons for them to implement the East False Bay Experimental TAC?
We demand that you and your staff urgently engage with abalone right holders to immediately develop an effective management strategy which should have been put in place in 2009! We want –
• You and your officials to respect the rule of law and properly implement the Abalone Fishery policy of 2003;
• To move away from using TAC decreases as the only management mechanism as this has failed hopelessly. Why can’t we increase the TAC to displace poachers? Poachers are being allowed by your department to steal between 2000 and 3000 tons of abalone annually! Decreases in our 150 ton TAC can never help with the recovery of abalone in these circumstances!
ABALONE FISHING LEVIES
In 2003 our levy was increased 4-fold! - on the understanding that –
• The increase was temporary;
• The increase would fund the establishment of the Green Courts; and
• The increase would fund a comprehensive compliance strategy – Operation Trident.
In 2005, the Green Courts were closed and Operation Trident was terminated AND nothing replaced these. Since then however our levies have only been further increased! - while we receive nothing except incompetence and failure in return.
On 31 May 2011 we addressed an urgent letter to you regarding our objections to paying the current inequitable and unjust levy. You have failed to respond to this letter and continue to ignore our concerns and objections.
We will now withhold payments of our levies to the Marine Living Resources Fund until such time as you have the decency to reply to our letter and we can agree on a reasonable levy that is in line with levies payable in the other commercial fishery sectors.
We now require you – as the Minister – to address us on each of the issues we raised above as a matter of extreme urgency and by no later than 20 October 2011, failing which we continue to publicly protest outside your offices. Your written reply can be submitted to Abalone South Africa firstname.lastname@example.org