On 25 August 2013, the fisheries department threw a complete hissy fit and tantrum about the WWF-SASSI decision to downgrade lobster from its green listing to its orange listing. This essentially means that SASSI no longer considers lobster a sustainable and well-managed fishery and that consumers should "think twice" about ordering South Africa's famed west coast rock lobster.
There are just so many problems with this latest DAFF tantrum that its hard to list them all! First of all, the tantrum is so late! WWF-SASSI announced its decision to downgrade lobster back in May. Yes, 4 months ago! Feike carried the story noting the devastating impact this would have on small-scale fishermen in particular given that they rely on local sales of lobsters more than large operators who have the means to export most of their product to Hong Kong and China (where sustainability and responsible resource management are of zero concern).
Did DAFF only read the WWF statement now, four months late? And dont forget that Food Lovers Market had already decided to take lobster off their shelves in April 2013. And Woolies is on track to do likewise.
So why the tantrum now DAFF?
DAFF's belated tantrum directed at WWF is also misplaced. The reason for the downgrade is entirely DAFF's doing. DAFF may claim to have a recovery plan in place but the problem is that for the past two seasons, they have ignored it and instead bowed to populist pressure and kept the annual catch limits unchanged when the recovery plan and the department's own scientists demanded that the catch be reduced by between 6-9 % annually. Remember, that DAFF also lied publicly last year stating that its decision to keep the lobster TAC unchanged was supported by scientific and socio-economic "studies" but when Feike demanded copies of these "studies" via the Promotion of Access to Information Act, the Fisheries Minister admitted in writing that these did not exist.
So DAFF not only ignored its own recovery plan (two years straight), which is supported by the lobster industry, they then blatantly lied about existence of "studies" to justify the non-adherence to the recovery plan. So when DAFF says that it will abide by the recovery plan, who in their right minds and who is interested in responsible fisheries management will believe them?
And lets not forget that DAFF continues to muddle around in the dark when it comes to fisheries compliance with (at best) compromised and untrained "fisheries monitors" and no compliance strategy to speak of. As a result, lobster poaching continues unabated. You can still freely buy illegally harvested lobster today along the west coast (Paternoster, Elands Bay, Lamberts Bay and Doring Bay) despite the season having closed on 30 June.
As we stated back in April and May 2013, the parlous state of the lobster resource is entirely DAFF's fault and doing. The WWF-SASSI is only doing what a responsible and reputable fisheries NGO ought to do - and that is to try and rescue lobster from ongoing governmental failure and mismanagement.