I cannot believe that I just wasted 4 good pages printing the Notice that proclaims the creation of the Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area. Yep, on 5 April 2013, the Minister of Environmental Affairs gazetted the Notice that proclaimed the establishment of South Africa's first offshore marine protected area (GN 36307 of 5 April 2013).
You must be wondering why I cant bring myself to congratulate the Minister of Environmental Affairs on what appears on paper to be a commendable and much anticipated Notice. Afterall, the establishment of the Prince Edward Islands MPA was mooted some time back - in fact a draft set of MPA regulations for the Islands were prepared in 2004 by yours truly. Feike has been on record calling for the establishment of the MPA after it was repeatedly shelved between 2006 and 2008.
The lack of our congratulatory ululations and abundance of frustrations stems from the fact that this important MPA is promulgated at a time when South Africa has zero, zilch, nada capacity, ability or resources to implement the objectives and purpose of the Prince Edward Islands marine protected area.
Why promulgate an offshore MPA or any other type of MPA when you have no intention, ability or resources to implement it? When last has a South African patrol vessel ventured near these waters to monitor and protect fish stocks such as our heavily poached toothfish stocks? I honestly cannot remember!
Further, this MPA is declared by the Minister of Environmental Affairs who has no legal authority to deploy fishery control officers or fishery patrol vessels - even if we could magically get our R500 million fleet of patrol vessels to sea! The Regulations for the management of the Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area for example make it an offence to fish or attempt to fish in the MPA Sanctuary Area. It is an offence to fish or attempt to fish for toothfish without a fishing permit issued by the Minister of Fisheries in the Restricted Zone. The use of bottom trawling and gill netting are declared to be prohibited fishing methods. And what is the point of creating these offences when neither the department of fisheries nor environmental affairs are able to patrol these waters and prevent violations or monitor adherence to this newest law? Will we email these regulations to all IUU fishing vessels around the planet and sternly tell them via email that they had better not poach our toothfish in our new MPA?
We remain unable to even protect inshore marine protected areas such as Betty's Bay which is supposed to be a critical refuge for depleted abalone stocks but in fact is one of the most pillaged marine areas on earth! So why bother declaring an offshore MPA when both the departments of fisheries and environmental affairs are clearly incapable of implementing the most basic objectives and purpose of marine protected areas?
The 4 pages of text that establish the Prince Edward Islands MPA are quite frankly a waste of paper and ink and web space.