Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DAFF says there is enough time for rights allocation process

The fisheries department is clearly seriously peeved by allegations that they will not be ready for the allocation of fishing quotas in 7 fishery sectors involving more than 1000 quota holders in 2013.

They issued a strongly worded statement as follows:

"The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) takes strong exception to any attempt by anyone who knowingly and intentionally spreads misinformation aimed at causing instability in a very important economic sector; the fishing industry. Quoting unnamed “reports” that allegedly “indicate that the Department of Fisheries has made no apparent attempt to commence with the process of renewing fishing licences, despite the renewal date for fishing quota allocations being less than a year away”, is not only far from the truth but also extremely reckless and irresponsible and such fallacies also have the potential to cause panic amongst investors and stakeholders.

We are acutely aware of the timelines and with the rights of six commercial sectors expiring only on 31 December 2013 (KwaZulu-Natal prawn trawl, demersal shark, squid, tuna pole, Hake Hand-line and traditional line fish) – almost two years away - and abalone on 31 July 2014 – almost 30 months away, we have ample time to ensure the kind of allocation process we envision.

DAFF would want to assure the public, and particularly those that have a direct interest in this industry, that there is no “looming crisis” and that the department will again, building on the successes of previous rights allocation processes, be able to deliver a seamless, transparent, fair and open process.

This will not be the first time that the DAFF will embark on this important process, and we are determined to build on the successes of the last rights allocation process.

We are further confident that, following a review of the previous process, the adjustments made to improve our internal arrangements and our resolve to consult regularly and extensively with all who have a direct or indirect stake in the industry, will again ensure a rights allocation process that is credible."

While we no doubt would like to believe them, we CANT! DAFF simply fail time and time again at communicating even the simplest messages. Their website is more than 16 months out of date. They fail to communicate the most basic (and positive messages) such as the opening of the lobster season or the setting of TAC's. We never know who is the current Acting DDG, acting head of Fisheries, Acting head of Research etc. They seem too petrified and lacking of confidence to communicate anything with the fishing industry and members of the public.

I repeat that the fisheries minister - either too busy chartering private flights or living large in 5 star hotels - has NEVER met with any of the fishing industry bodies or addressed the 22 commercial fishery sectors to advise them what her plans, visions or policies are?

Here are a couple of reasons why we cant believe this department and their Minister:

1. It has taken this absent minister and her department more than 2 years to draft a flawed small scale fisheries policy which is stuck at NEDLAC and opposed by every small scale fishing sector and interest body.

2. It took the same department no less than 4 years to get the performance measuring process going and to get a series of right holder "data assessments" issued which are not to be considered "decisions" according to the department.

3. Let us not forget how they failed to get the abalone fishery opened in time despite promise after promise that it would be opened in February 2010; then it was April 2010. The fishery finally opened in June 2010 - slap-bang in the middle of Winter!

4. And then of course they also forgot about re-allocating rights in the oyster and mussel sectors! These two sectors continue to operate on annual exemptions as opposed to bankable long term fishing rights.

5. And what about the numerous transfer of fishing right applications that are still waiting for "urgent" decision-making. There are simple transfer of fishing right applications that have been sitting at the department for more than 2 and 3 years.

And their claim that they had successfully undertaken a rights allocation process before (ie the long term rights allocation process) is empty as the team of professionals that led that process is no longer employed by DAFF. And the process of preparing for the allocation of long term fishing rights commenced in 2002 (for allocation of fishing rights in 2005); was preceded by two test-case allocations in the abalone (inshore sector) and large pelagic (offshore sector) fisheries in 2003 and 2004, respectively; the allocation of long term fishing rights cost in excess of R45 million which required careful budgeting at a time when the Marine Living Resources Fund ran annual budget surpluses - the MLRF is presently run a R50 million deficit.

Instead of issuing bluster, DAFF must make public their process plans and timelines showing how rights will be re-allocated timeously and before 31 December 2013 (and before 31 July 2013 for abalone) and what their budget allocation and costing projections for the allocations processes are.

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