Thursday, March 15, 2012

A response to the Fisheries Minister

On 15 March 2012, the Fisheries Minister published an opinion piece in the Cape Times in which she seeks to explain and justify her stated intention to move the "fisheries department" which has historically been based in the Western Cape to Pretoria. She essentially claims that the Fisheries Branch has operated as an "island from the main body" thus creating duplication in job functions. She furthermore baldly states that there is apparent mismanagement and corruption (without providing any proof and without even the shame of admitting such under her watch!) that could be routed out if the fisheries department was based in Pretoria as all other government departments are headquartered there. We do of course note that none of the government departments based in Pretoria are afflicted by corruption and maladministration.

The Minister proceeds to justify her recent blundering statements by stating two "facts". Fact one is that there are duplicated roles and functions at the Fisheries Branch. She for example states that there is a duplication of financial, HR, IT and legal services functions. The Minister's statements on this score are a further indication that neither she nor her advisers know much about the governance and institutional systems regulating fisheries in South Africa. She may want to educate herself on the the provisions of the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 (MLRA) and the Public Finance Management Act of 1999 (PFMA). In terms of section 10 of the Marine Living Resources Act, a separate government business entity called the Marine Living Resources Fund (MLRF) is established to fund the regulation and management of South Africa's marine living resources. In terms of the PFMA, the MLRF is listed as a Schedule 3 Public Entity, similar to other Schedule 3 entities such as the Isimangaliso Wetland Park Management Authority (formerly the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park), the Human Sciences Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council.

These entities are obliged by law to have separate accounting authorities who report to an accounting officer, which in the case of the MLRF, is the Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Further, in the case of the MLRF, it must have separate accounting, IT and administrative support function because fisheries management is not solely funded from the national fiscus. The MLRF is a separate fund altogether receipting monies from the commercial and recreational fisheries who pay levies on fish landed and an array of fees for permits and licences. Is the Minister going to advocate that the Agricultural Research Council which reports to her DG also cease to have its own financial and corporate services functions because they are duplicating functions?

The second "fact" pronounced by the Minister is that by being based in the Western Cape, fisheries management is biased toward the "big" commercial sector and she then gives the example of how she opened the once banned abalone fishery. First, the Fisheries Minister does not seem to comprehend that some 95% of all commercial fish landed occurs in the Western Cape. And that is according to the United Nations and based on data her own department supplied. Further, this is not biased toward to the "big" commercial sector. In fact, the serious socio-economic harm that would be caused to small-scale and artisinal fisheries would be tremendous. That is because the Western Cape happens to be located adjacent to one of the world's most productive ocean currents - the Benguela Current - and as such the absolute bulk of all productive commercial fish stocks live in the waters off the Western Cape. No amount of political rhetoric and farcical pronouncements by the Minister on the "equitable spread of fish stocks" will change this! Further, it is unclear how the historic commercial bias that the Minister talks of will be corrected? Will she force fishing companies and fish processing establishments to move outside of the Western Cape and in terms of what laws? What will she say about the huge consequential job losses that will no doubt result?

To try and move fisheries management from the Western Cape, and particularly from Cape Town, Lamberts Bay, St Helena Bay, Saldanha, Hermanus, Gansbaai, Kalk Bay, Hout Bay, Arniston will only serve to crush the small scale fisheries sector who rely heavily on the proximity of the Fisheries Branch in Cape Town to conduct everyday business. It is entirely unclear what maladministration and/or corruption referred to by the Minister in her convoluted thinking caused the underdevelopment of fisheries in the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and KZN. What the Minister and her advisers seem unable to comprehend is that you can not social engineer fish stocks as her government continues to seek to social engineer the racial profile of the Western Cape! The apparent "monopoly" the Western Cape has over the fishing industry is solely the result of its proximity to the vast majority of commercial fishing grounds, the investment over decades in more than R12 billion in fisheries infrastructure, the existence of Western Cape based vessel repair, building and servicing infrastructure, the existence of a network of foreign fisheries associations and companies and access to exporting infrastructure such as fish export clearing companies, airports and harbours. Afterall, of the 12 commercial fishing harbours in existence, 11 are Western Cape based - the 12th being Port Nolloth. How on earth does the Minister really foresee this changing "monopoly" and why must it change?

Port Nolloth has one small barely accessible fishing harbour that is unable to berth a fishing vessel larger than 20m. It has no processing infrastructure or airport from which fish such as high value tunas and hakes can be exported. The entire Northern Cape has a lobster quota allocation in Zone A of 30 tons, compared to the Western Cape allocation of more than 2000 tons! How does the Minister think she is going to grow fisheries there? Is she going to build an airport, re-build the entire harbour and re-stock the oceans off that coast with lobsters? KZN may have warm waters that are nice for tourists but these are not highly productive waters for commercial fisheries (other than tunas for example). The dedicated KZN beach seine fishery is minuscule in size with 35 quota holders that only operate during the sardine run and is considered an extremely marginal small-scale commercial fishery. The "big" commercial KZN prawn trawl fishery barely functions anymore with only 2 vessels operating. And it is the Minister and her department's continued bungling that has denied South Africa the ability to grow its tuna long line fishery.

Of the more than 2200 artisinal or small-scale commercial fishing rights currently allocated, more than 2000 are Western Cape based because these inshore fish stocks are located here. The Minister's refrain about how Eastern Cape based fisheries have not been developed is more a confirmation of her own and her department's failures to support quota holders and the development of fisheries in this province. For example, when was the last time that the Minister and her Deputy Director-General for Fisheries met with the significant contingent of commercial hake trawl, squid, hake handline and pilchard quota holders based in the Eastern Cape? The answer. NEVER. The fisheries minister never ever met with members of the South African commercial fishing industry since her appointment in June 2009. How is it possible that a fisheries minister can pretend to make such pronouncements over fishing, policy and management when she has never met with one of the 22 commercial and small-scale commercial fishing sectors in this country?

That perhaps explains why she for example states that in 2010 she lifted a ban on abalone fishing in "some parts of the Western Cape" and which ban was in place for about "five years". The South African small-scale commercial abalone fishery is located entirely in the Western Cape between Cape Columbine and Arniston and the closure affected the entire industry and "not some parts". The closure of the fishery was put in place by her colleague and current Minister, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, and was endorsed by her ANC Cabinet colleagues on the scantiest of evidence. It is interesting to note how she (correctly) accuses her colleagues (including the current President) of endorsing a decision that had "taken away livelihoods from small black fishing communities".

We reiterate our well-worn advice to the the Fisheries Minister. She would be well advised to focus her attentions on employing professional fishery managers and competent staff at the Fisheries Branch in Cape Town instead of traversing nonsensical and irrelevant hobby horses that will only further the downward spiral of the parlous state of fisheries management in this country. Her own colleague in the ANC and member of the fisheries portfolio committee, Mr Salam Abram, has described the Minister's department has being dysfunctional. A change of scenery will not fix this and a fact finding study will no doubt cost us millions and be as useful as the multi-million rand harbour development report her department commissioned some years ago which to this day remains a dust collector.

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