Monday, April 2, 2012

DA Statement on Fisheries Vessels

The Democratic Alliance issued this statement today on the transfer of the fisheries patrol and research vessels to the SA Navy.

For the first time since regulation of the fishing industry was instituted in 1940, South Africa’s marine resources will be left completely unpatrolled for at least two weeks.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has issued numerous warnings about this situation, to no avail. Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson may as well have published an advert announcing a free two-week poaching season.

In November last year, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries prematurely announced the awarding of an R800 million tender to politically connected firm Sekunjalo Consortium. The tender was withdrawn on the back of a DA exposé that the bid adjudication process was punctuated by irregularity. In the meanwhile, the previous contract holders, Smit Amandla Marine, had their contract extended to the end of March.

The Department should have used the time to ensure that a plan was in place to patrol our marine resources from the beginning of April. Experts have indicated that a sound handover process would take at least three months.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) in my possession, entered into by the Ministers of Fisheries and Defence, indicates that the Navy will now ‘perform the shipping management functions of the Fisheries Department’s fleet of vessels with effect from 1st April 2012 …’ The MOU will remain in place for 12 months, contingent on the signing of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) two weeks from now. South African waters will remain unprotected for the duration of that time. No research cruises will be conducted either.

But the transition from merchant to navy ships is not as simple as handing over the keys to a tractor. There are a number of critical questions about the transition process that remain unanswered.

Firstly, when will the eight state-owned merchant vessels actually be registered as naval vessels and removed from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) register of vessels?

Secondly, while we welcome the idea of the navy operating and maintaining the patrol vessels, we believe that research and law enforcement pertaining to marine resources must remain essentially civilian. Clarity must therefore be provided on how fishery control officers and researchers will be permitted to function on board naval vessels.

Thirdly, what plans are in place to compensate for the lack of a proper handover? Data sets in fisheries research must be meticulously managed. At this stage it is not at all clear whether plans have been made to ensure the continuation of critical research functions as a going concern. If these functions are neglected, the total allowable catch, upon which fishing quotas are based, will not be determined in time for the allocation of the quotas.

I will be submitting parliamentary questions to the Minister to get clarity on these matters.

Until these questions are answered, the poaching of our marine resources can be expected to increase exponentially. Of course, the effective condoning of poaching is indicative of a department whose legacy will be characterised more by poaching than by prudence.

Media enquiries:

Pieter van Dalen MP
DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
083 655 2203

Piera Abbott
Senior Media Officer
076 130 5779

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