Monday, February 25, 2013

Give DAFF A Chance? A Plea by the Minister

Palesa Mokomele, the Fisheries Minister's spokesperson, writes in the Cape Times this morning that we should give the fisheries department a chance to implement its turn-around strategy. She was responding to a Cape Times editorial titled "Fisheries rots from the head" (21 February 2013). 

Ms Mokomele - as usual - makes a number of rather foolish comments but there are two that require an urgent response. 

Firstly, Ms Mokomele's closing plea to give the fisheries department a chance to implement its turn around strategy is contemptuous in the extreme. Why is there a "turn around strategy" when we are told by Ms Mokomele and the DDG of Fisheries that Feike, the DA and the media are manufacturing and lying about the supposed crises afflicting the fisheries department?

Further, the fisheries department which is led by a DDG with zero knowledge of and experience in fisheries; a fisheries department afflicted by massive numbers of vacancies and no permanent head of fisheries management; and a fisheries department that has been led by Tina Joemat-Pettersson since June 2009 has been deceiving the public about the extent of each crisis for at least the past three years. Here is another brutal fact which has been repeatedly denied to date: Based on the department's presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Fisheries on 19 February 2013, it is crystal clear that the fisheries department will not be able to allocate fishing rights in 8 fisheries this year, threatening the future commercial viability of the squid fishery and jeopardising thousands of jobs in amongst others, the squid and linefish sectors (our oldest fishery dating back to the 1500's). 

Our analysis that the fisheries department has completely imploded is not made recklessly. We simply read the department's own presentation to the Portfolio Committee last week. Perhaps Ms Mokomele may want to read this presentation to realise just how ridiculous her request to give the fisheries department a chance to turn itself around is.  

Secondly, Ms Mokomele goes on to state that neither the Marine Stewardship Council certification of the hake trawl fishery nor the research surveys have been compromised! Again, Ms Mokomele please first read your own's department's analyses of the major crises it has acknowledged it faces before publishing such blatant untruths! In its presentation to the Portfolio Committee, the fisheries department admitted that its failure to ensure the proper functioning of the research and patrol vessels will threaten the future certification of the trawl fishery -
"The Marine Stewardship Council certification of the hake fishery is due to be assessed in March 2013 and industry and jobs may be threatened"
The presentation furthermore makes clear that none of the research vessels are seaworthy let alone at sea! The tragic irony is that the oldest research vessel - the Algoa - was transferred to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) a few months back. DEA proceed to re-appoint Smit Marine to manage the vessel, which is already fully operational, at sea and undertaking marine-based research! 

The only fisheries research that has taken place so far has been with the use of private industry fishing vessels.

Ms Mokomele, would you care to clarify how the department's grossly reckless and destructive management of fisheries over the past 15 months in particular have not compromised MSC certification and the integrity of the research surveys? I reiterate what I have said before (but of course now supported by the department itself - and in writing too!): The fisheries department has imploded; it serves no legitimate purpose any longer; it certainly has failed to carry out its most basic and obligatory functions under section 2 of the Marine Living Resources Act. 

Fact: South Africa's entire EEZ of some 1,5 million square miles is not being patrolled or monitored by the fisheries department which is legally obligated to protect and sustain our marine resources. 

Fact: The hundreds of commercial fish stocks that are harvested by South Africa's 22 commercial fisheries are barely being researched and instead reliance is being increasingly placed on desk-top analyses and industry-sponsored vessels and resources.

Fact: Every one of South Africa's inshore fisheries are overfished or considered to have collapsed as a direct result of incompetent management and the collapse of compliance. This is perhaps best illustrated by the nearshore west coast rock lobster fishery where stocks are 97% overfished, ravaged by massive levels of illegal fishing by the ill-considered and politically populist "interim relief" operators which number some 1500 "fishers", and the unlawful abandonment of a crucial recovery plan for the lobster fishery. 

Fact: Fishing rights in 8 commercial and artisinal fishing sectors must be re-allocated before the end of 2013. This will not happen due to incompetence, bungling and a failure to understand fisheries management and quota allocation processes by senior staff in the department. In 2014 and 2015, fishing rights in 10 additional fisheries must be re-allocated. Preparations for the allocation of rights in these fisheries ought to commence by June 2013 at the latest. There is no chance of this happening especially considering that by the winter, the department will no doubt be frozen stiff into inaction by crippling bouts of panic. 

Fact: The department continues to run a substantial budget deficit and continues to place excessive financial reliance on income generated from the sale of confiscated abalone. The department therefore has an inherent financial interest in the continued growth of abalone poaching since it profits substantially from the sale of illegal abalone. 

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