Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Lesson for SA's Fisheries Minister

The Economist (May 26th-June 1st) reports on the impressive recovery of a huge proportion of American fisheries, noting how a combination of reduced political interference, an emphasis on tenure security for quota holders, support for the transferability of fishing quotas and increased reliance on sound science has spurred the recovery of an impressive number of fisheries.

It is instructive that South Africa in fact consciously pursues the exact opposite. Our Fisheries Minister appears hellbent on destroying the SA fishing sector. It is beyond comprehension why our politicians are so committed to seeking out historically proven policy failures and then implementing these! Like fishing co-operatives and community-based fishing quotas! History tells us to not go there! 

In 2004, South Africa had two fisheries in crisis but recovering. Linefish stocks, particularly in marine protected areas were recovering rapidly. Abalone poaching was being reduced and a TURF-based management was being implemented. Today, every single one of the artisinal-based inshore fisheries are decimated and in crisis, including the important lobster nearshore fishery. Leading fisheries scientists are of the view that abalone poaching and resource destruction are so far gone that it is simply no longer possible to reverse. 

The full Economist article is available here. Some key paragraphs are reproduced below.

FOR American fish, this is a good time to be alive. On May 14th the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that a record six federal fisheries returned to health last year. After a decade of similar progress, 86% of America’s roughly 250 federally monitored commercial fish stocks were not subject to overfishing; 79% were considered healthy. 
This is also good for American fishermen. Commercial and recreational fishing generates an estimated $183 billion a year and supports over 1.5m full-time or part-time jobs. Rebuilding America’s 45 remaining over-exploited fish stocks, NOAA estimates, could generate an extra $31 billion a year and half a million jobs. 
That is a tribute to America learning a simple truth—that scientists, not fishermen or politicians, should decide how many fish can be caught—and enforcing this with simple rules.
The recent recovery of species, including New England scallops, mid-Atlantic bluefish and summer flounder and Pacific lingcod, is the result. This signals another truth: given a break, the marine environment can often replenish itself spectacularly. 
America’s fisheries are probably now managed almost as well as the world’s best, in Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia. Yet there is plenty of room for improvement. State-run fisheries, which tend to be close to shore and dominated by small-scale and inefficient fishermen, are less well funded and well managed and much poorer for it. New England groundfish stocks, including cod, have also not recovered: they account for 13 of the remaining depleted populations. This appears to be partly the result of environmental change, climatic or cyclical. 
And the politicians are still interfering. On May 9th the House passed legislation forbidding NOAA from developing an innovative means of apportioning fishing quotas, known as catch shares. These are long-term, aiming to give fishermen a stake in the future of their fisheries; market-based, since they can be traded; and, in practice, good for fish. 

(Note to South African politicians: Continue with populist, failed schemes like the small scale fishing policy and you will only increase poverty, inequality and biological destruction of fisheries.)

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