Monday, December 1, 2014

DAFF Determines Abalone 2014/2015 TAC

The Fisheries Department (DAFF), led by its Deputy Director-General and the Chief Directors of Research, Fisheries Management and Compliance met with representatives of the SA Abalone industry today (1 December 2014) and confirmed that a decision has been taken to set the 2014-2015 abalone TAC at 96 tons. 

The 96 ton allocation is substantially less than the 160 tons motivated for by the industry in a detailed motivation of more than 15 pages. However, the meeting was brief but extremely productive with the DDG, Mr Mortimer Mannya, making it plain that he and his management team intend managing fisheries such as abalone very differently to the past. Mr Mannya emphasised the need for increased collaboration, information sharing and partnerships to be built between industry and his management team. Mr Mannya was nonetheless frank and to the point about his obligations of having to determine the TAC by striking a balance between the scientific advice provided to him and the requirements of industry and right holders. 

The 96 ton TAC is identical to that set for the previous season (2013-2014) but could conceivably be increased once the DAFF confirms the findings of its two experimental fishery programmes which were conducted in the False Bay. Both experimental programmes directly involved abalone right holders and the understanding is that the results will confirm that the resource in the False Bay is healthy and can sustain a commercial fishery of approximately 10 tons (eastern False Bay) and 12 tons (western False Bay between Cape Point and Muizenberg excluding the current protected areas). 

The case by right holders for a larger TAC (or at the very least to not be penalised for the department's repeated failure to substantially reduce poaching) received significant legal support toward the end of November when the North Gauteng High Court ruled that a decision by DAFF and its Minister to ban recreational fishing for Steenbras was unlawful as it was based, inter alia, on outdated scientific data, without any clear understanding of the causes of demise of steenbras stocks and without any consideration for the socio-economic impacts of such a decision. 

The abalone industry will be meeting with DAFF to finalise fishing permit conditions, inter-area allocations, general management rules for the upcoming season and importantly whether right holders will have to pay annual permit and levy fees at 11am on Thursday 4 December 2014. Right holders are encouraged to contact their area representatives should they wish to comment on any of the proposed permit conditions and/or to provide any inputs pertaining to the additional issues that will be finalised at the 4 December 2014 MWG meeting. 

Annual International Review of South African Fisheries Commences in Cape Town

The Annual International Stock Assessment Review Workshop focussing on Hake and penguins commenced today at the University of Cape Town. The Annual Review Workshop will conclude on Friday 5 December. The Workshop is open to all interested persons. 

Six leading international fisheries scientists arrived in Cape Town this past weekend to conduct an annual review of the analyses used to provide scientific advice for the management of South Africa’s major fisheries. 

Starting on 1 December 2014, the review workshop, which is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the National Research Foundation, takes place at the University of Cape Town and concludes with a presentation by the six-member panel of their findings and recommendations at 15h30 on Friday, 5 December 2014.

The scientists making up the review panel are: 

Alistair Dunn (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand);
Jason Link (National Marine Fisheries Service, USA); 
André Punt (University of Washington, USA);
Tony Smith (Panel Chair, Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation, Australia);
Gunnar Stefansson (University of Iceland); and
Robin Waples (National Marine Fisheries Service, USA).

This year’s discussions will focus on hake, which is South Africa’s most important and valuable fishery, upon which thousands of jobs in the Western Cape depend. The group will review research related to the possible sharing of hake populations with Namibia, and the implications that might have for joint decision making for hake resources in the region. 

The other major fishery that will come under consideration is that for sardine and anchovy. Firstly, there is the question of how the management of the sardine resource can be improved, given that it probably consists of a west and a south-coast stock, rather than comprising a single unit as previously supposed. Secondly, there are also associated implications for the recovery of the African penguin population, which has decreased rapidly since the turn of the century, being currently at its lowest recorded abundance, and relies primarily on sardine and anchovy for food. The panel will review results from an initiative involving closures to purse-seine fishing in the vicinity of islands containing penguin breeding colonies, which aims to ascertain whether this assists penguin recovery.

For enquiries regarding attendance, please contact Ms Di Loureiro at 021 650 2340 (until 14h00) or, or Riana Geldenhuys at 021 650 4846, 082 460 5554 or 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Minister's Decision on Red Steenbras is Irrational & Nonsensical

The North Gauteng High Court on 24 November 2014 handed down one of the most important judgements in recent times concerning the determination of catch allowances. The application was brought by, inter alia, the Border Deep Sea Angling Association against the Fisheries Department (DAFF) and its Minister. 

The Association sought to review and set aside a 23 November 2012 decision by the Minister to ban all harvesting of red steenbras by recreational fishers. The Association contended that the decision was, inter alia, irrational, taken arbitrarily and capriciously and one that no reasonable person in the position of a minister would take. 

The court agreed with the Association, reviewed and set aside the red steenbras ban in so far as it concerns recreational fishers and awarded costs against DAFF and the Minister. 

The full judgement is available from Feike on request. The judgement however provides a crucial precedent and standard for the determination of what constitutes rational and therefore lawful decision-making when determining catch limits and has dire implications for the way DAFF has been summarily and heavy-handedly deciding catch allowances in fisheries such as lobster (particularly the recreational sector) and abalone. 

For too long, DAFF has been operating on the basis that it will simply do as it pleases and ram through annual catch allowance allocations with little to no consultation and on the basis of appallingly outdated and irrelevant research data. For example, in the Deep Sea Angling Association matter, DAFF tried to convince the court that its reliance on 13 year-old research data was rational and justifiable. The court rejected this contention as being nonsensical and irrational. 

DAFF also tried to convince the court that catch per unit effort (CPUE) data showed that the red steenbras stock was overfished. Once again, the court rejected this contention, correctly noting that CPUE data is irrelevant to determining stock status as it does not prove how much fish is in the sea. In other words, CPUE data is not a substitute for actual research into stock status. This ruling is particularly important for the abalone fishery where DAFF continues to rely substantially on CPUE data to reduce TAC limits (especially in Zones E, F and G) because DAFF has never undertaken actual research or its research is embarrassingly outdated. 

The court also emphasised the need to take into consideration the economic impacts of such decisions. DAFF currently does not in any way consider the socio-economic impacts of its TAC decisions which are taken under veils of secrecy, poor or dated science and irrelevant documents which are substantially aimed at being verbose and to obfuscate fair and transparent decision-making. The manner in which DAFF is presently mismanaging the determination of the abalone TAC for the 2014/2015 season is a case in point and the Deep Sea Angling Association ruling opens the Minister and his department to a review application on similar grounds.

DAFF further contended that it was not necessary to actually determine whether it was commercial fishing or recreational fishing that resulted in the overfishing of red steenbras stocks. The court rejected this argument as being clearly nonsensical and irrational. The court rightly asked how is it possible to design a solution for a problem if you are unable to understand its causes! This is of course the definition of insanity. 

Once again, DAFF's repeated decisions to punish the legal abalone fishery when it is the illegal fishery that is decimating stocks will - on the precedent of this judgement - be held to be unlawful. In fact, the evidence is worse for DAFF in the abalone fishery where it has accepted that the legal fishery takes about 120,000 (95 tons) abalone annually while the illegal fishery harvests nothing less than 7,500,000 million abalone (+ 2500 tons). It is inconceivable that any rational and reasonable decision-maker would ever curtail the legal fishery while allowing the illegal fishery a free hand to poach. 

The same will apply to the lobster TAC. Who is responsible for the ongoing decimation of stocks? Recreational fishers? Interim relief fishers? The commercial fishery? The fact that DAFF has not undertaken research to determine this and simply then proceeds to punish entire sectors arbitrarily and without any basis for the decision will mean that sector-wide reductions of the lobster TAC will, in all probability, be declared to be capricious, arbitrary and therefore unlawful. 

Finally, what this decision exposes as well is the state of poor management that our fisheries department finds itself in. How is it that the most recent scientific research on a critical stock such as steenbras, which is part of a section 16-managed fishery - a fishery in environmental crisis!! - dates back to 1999? How relevant and sound is the research pertaining to our other fisheries that DAFF is purportedly "managing"? 

Why is DAFF not undertaking socio-economic research? Given that DAFF is not even able to allocate fishing rights any more, what exactly are they doing? What are we actually paying this government department to do, then? 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ICCAT - No Finning Ban Fails

For sixth year in succession, the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed to secure adequate protection for shark species. South Africa is a founding ICCAT member.

In particular, the meeting failed to adopt a resolution requiring ICCAT's 49 member states to ensure that their fishing vessels land all sharks with fins attached in a bid to substantially halt the reprehensible practice of finning at sea. At present, ICCAT requires the weight of all fins on board vessels to account for 5% of the total shark trunk weight (a fin-to-shark weight ratio) when landed. This is of course a significant loophole which is regularly abused. 

The defeated proposal, which was co-sponsored by South Africa, would have required that fins must be landed naturally attached to the shark. Japan and China effectively blocked the proposal to adopt the "fins-attached" resolution. 

However, we believe that South Africa should nevertheless proceed now and commence with a process of instituting domestic management measures requiring all foreign vessels calling at South African ports to ensure that fins are attached to sharks, failing which permission to enter our territorial waters (including ports) should be denied. South African vessels should be obliged to land all sharks with fins attached in terms of their 2015 annual fishing permit conditions ... if of course the SA government gets around to extending the fishing rights allocated to the large pelagic fishery which  expire on 28 February 2015.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is there a solution to the lobster poaching scourge?

There is no doubt that the scourge of illegality afflicting our high value inshore fisheries such as lobster and abalone will completely decimate these mainstay fisheries in the not too distant future. There is broad agreement about this. 

We must also accept that the Fisheries Department will never be able to realise their "recovery plans" given the dearth of skills, ability, resources and budgets available. That the system of long term fishing rights - meant to encourage legality and investment in fisheries - is fast collapsing with each approaching re-allocation process and being replaced with chaotic and valueless "exemptions", will only spur on illegality. 

We are witnessing the intrusion of increasing levels of organised criminality into the lobster fishery. These forms of organised criminality are usually associated with the gang-run abalone poaching syndicates. 

So how does the South African commercial lobster industry protect the jobs it sustains, their  investments and foreign markets and ultimately the resource they depend on. With stocks at 3% of pristine and any recovery plan proposed by the department a pipe-dream at best, the obligation to protect lobster stocks must fall (almost entirely) to the commercial industry. 

The introduction 8 years ago of the class of "interim relief" operators which currently number some 2000 people each harvesting a poverty-inducing 100kg per season is the perfect license to poach and ensures that the few hardworking fishery control officers left stand little chance at successfully ensuring compliance. 

Given that these 2000 "fishers" (many can hardly be described as such) have been "conditioned" to receiving this type of social grant from the Fisheries Department, it is presently incomprehensible to suggest simply removing this annual fisheries social grant. 

Accepting the anarchy of populism and that the Fisheries Department is completely impotent when it comes to responsible fisheries management and compliance, how do we save our lobsters from annihilation? 

Unlike the abalone fishery, the lobster fishery has a substantial industrial commercial fishery and it is this sector of the fishery that could possibly save our lobster ... if indeed they accept the burden to act responsibly and ensure a fastidious commitment to the rule of law. My suggestion would be that the interim relief sector (or even individual communities of interim relief fishers) forsake their minuscule and unprofitable quotas and not go to sea at all. In return, the commercial fishing industry should partner with and invest in these coastal communities and commit to investing in sustainable economic ventures such as small-scale fish farms, large scale seaweed harvesting and exporting, fig harvesting and marketing, full-time employment in fish processing factories or on commercial fishing vessels, or in other appropriate economic sectors. 

However, to continue exposing lobster stocks to the current unsustainable effort levels is unsustainable, reckless and a recipe for coastal poverty and social upheaval. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The Fisheries Department has confirmed that the lobster TAC for the 2014/2015 season has been cut by 17% as follows:

  • Commercial Fishing (Offshore): 1120.25 tons (previously 1356.56 tons);
  • Commercial Fishing (Nearshore): 376.10 tons (previously 451 tons);
  • Subsistence (Interim Relief Measure) Fishing: 235.45 tons (previously 276 tons);  and
  • Recreational Fishing: 69.20 tons (previously 83.5 tons)

The department's press statement states that the "2014/15 season for recreational fishing of WCRL will open on Sunday, 15 November 2014, and will close on Monday, 6 April 2014." The season will actually start on Saturday 14 November. Sunday will of course be the 16th.

As previously reported on this BLOG, the recreational fishery will be restricted to 21 fishing days spread between SATURDAY 15 November and the Easter Weekend as follows:

  • November: 15 November 2014 to 16 November 2014 (2 days)

  • December: 16 December 2014 (1 day)

  • December/January20 December 2014 to 2 January 2015 (14 days)

  • Easter Weekend: 3 April 2015 to 6 April 2015 (4 days)

These are the only days on which recreational fishing for lobster may occur.

Further restrictions concerning recreational fishing are as follows:

  • Only persons over the age of 12 may fish;
  • All recreational fishing may only be undertaken in terms of a recreational fishing permit, which will cost R94 for the season. These permits have traditionally been available via the SA Post Office;
  • Recreational fishing will be permitted between 8am and 16h00 on the days permitted;
  • Lobsters with a carapace length of less than 80mm ARE NOT ALLOWED;
  • Lobsters caught with a recreational permit MAY NOT BE SOLD;
  • A maximum of 20 lobsters may be transported in a single vehicle provided that all permit holders are present and all lobsters must be transported in a whole state.

The commercial and interim relief fishery sectors are subject to their own permit conditions and regulations.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Lobster TAC Slashed by 17%

Much has been written about the fact that the recreational lobster fishery has had its quota slashed by 17% to 69 tons or 21 days of fishing. There is little doubt that the economic impact of such a curtailment in the recreational fishery will be felt across the coastal Western Cape economy as recreational fishermen decide to not service their boats, purchase new wetsuits, gear and equipment, or confirm holidays in coastal villages from Paternoster to Arniston. 

Of course the Fisheries Department has never undertaken any form of socio-economic research into the social and economic impacts of its decisions despite it being legally obligated to in terms of its theoretical adherence to a policy of "ecosystems approach to fisheries management". 

I have estimated that the reckless introduction of the interim relief lobster sector over the past 8 seasons has cost the South African economy more than R600 million in direct TAC losses. That is a frightening number. The ecological losses to the marine ecosystem are perhaps incalculable. But there is no doubt that the ongoing failure of governance and responsible management of our resources by DAFF is now resulting in biological meltdown in a number of our fisheries. Add to this DAFF's growing inability to even allocate fishing rights, the crises that face our valuable nearshore fisheries and the communities that depend on them will only spur on rapid increases in drug-use, prostitution, gangsterism and other crimes that are already prevalent in our communities. 

And while the lobster fishery faces a whopping 17% cut, DAFF nonchalantly proposed a 50% cut to the abalone TAC! Again, DAFF has not considered the economic consequences of such a TAC cut. Would you be able to survive if your employer told you this month that with effect from next month, your income will be halved? 

A 17% cut to lobster TAC's will have a similar devastating blow. Consider the following income reductions for a nearshore commercial right holder who has to maintain and survey his boat, maintain his gear and ring nets, pay taxes and permit fees and fish levies to the Marine Living Resources Fund, purchase bait to catch lobster and pay for fuel to run his boat and vehicle that tows the boat, and on top of that, provide for his family. 

With a 600kg lobster quota (pre-17% TAC reduction), the average net income (before taxes) earned by right holders was ±R115,000 (assuming a 5% mortality rate). This income will now reduce to R95,000 or less than R8,000 per month. The average interim lobster quota holder can expect to earn less than R2000 per month. 

In reality of course, poor law enforcement, the systematic failure of fishing quota allocation processes, the lack of effective governance at DAFF and widespread corruption and maladministration will probably encourage many right holders to fish well over and above their quotas, especially since fishermen don't know if they will even have fishing rights come next year. (Abalone rights have already lapsed and been replaced with a system of "exemptions" - i.e. confirmation of failure). 

Fishing rights in the lobster fishery (amongst others) are supposed to be re-allocated by July 2015 but with less than 9 months to go (and the department needing at least 3 years lead time and substantial funds that are not available or budgeted for), the era of predictable, bankable and secure fishing rights is officially coming to an end. Instead, we have transformed the fisheries sector in a cesspool of corruption, chaos, overfishing, collapsed fisheries, collapsing investments, growing unemployment, increasing intra-community conflict.... and of course EXEMPTIONS! 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Abalone Poaching Flourishes

Feike receives dozens of reports from members of the public and abalone right holders who try and report incidences of abalone poaching but only end up being frustrated by the Department of Fisheries' refusal to stop the scourge of poaching.

An abalone right holder recently narrated two such incidences in October this year alone, which epitomise the failure of the department and frustration of law-abiding abalone right holders who are literally having to watch their livelihood being stolen from them by blatant illegality and mind-boggling incompetence or corruption or both. One cannot but ask: Are DAFF officers part of the abalone poaching syndicates?

13 October 2014

I drove past Harderbaai in Onrus river. Spotted 9 divers in the water. Phoned DAFF in Hermanus, time 18h55 . They said  they knew about them. Followed up next morning, no arrests or confiscations were made. DAFF’s response was that they did go to the scene, but the people were all ready in the water, so they could do nothing! The poachers were not stopped during their poaching operations.

14 October 2014

I drove past Harderbaai in Onrus river. Spotted 2 DAFF vehicles in open sight, each with 2 inspectors. Also spotted six divers on the rocks. They are wet and have been diving. DAFF inspectors are just sitting in their vehicles. I follow up the next morning. No arrests were made, no confiscations were made and the poachers were not stopped during their operations.

Another incident in October involved a spear fisherman who informed DAFF officers that there were illegal abalone divers near Asbaai. He was told that it was not their job to arrest abalone poachers.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

DAFF Extends Abalone Fishing Season

The Department of Fisheries has extended the fishing season to 31 October 2014 for Zone G1 right holders only.

The granting of the season extension follows a written request by a Zone G right holder who requested an extension to the season until such time as quotas were harvested. The Department refused to allow an open-ended time frame noting that the 2014/2015 season is set to commence on 1 November 2014.

The TAC for the upcoming season must still be determined. The abalone industry has motivated for a 160 ton catch allowance while the department has proposed a 43 ton TAC.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Recreational Lobster Fishery to be Severely Curtailed

The Department of Fisheries is proposing another annual substantial reduction to the annual recreational lobster catch and effort limits.

Just two seasons ago, the catch limit was 183 tons or 67 days of fishing spread over the period 15 November to 15 January and 6 April of the following year to 9 April.

The current proposal confirms that the catch limit will be reduced to 69 tons or 21 days of fishing. The only aspect still up for discussion is the spread of the fishing days. The Department has proposed three possibilities:

Option 1: 21 fishing days

November: 6 fishing days (15 to 16 November / 22 to 23 November / 29 to 30 November)

December: 4 fishing days (20 to 21 December / 27 to 28 December)

January: 5 fishing days (1 January / 3 to 4 January / 17 to18 January)

February: 2 fishing days (7 to 8 February)

Easter weekend: 4 fishing days

Option 2: 21 fishing days

November: 4 fishing days (15 to 16 November / 29 to 30 November)

December: 5 fishing days (16 December / 25 to 28 December)

January: 2 fishing days (17 to 18 January)

February: 2 fishing days (7 to 8 February)

March: 4 fishing days (7 to 8 March / 28 to 29 March)

Easter weekend: 4 fishing days

Option 3: 21 fishing days

November: 6 fishing days (5 to 16 November / 22 to 23 November / 29 to 30 November)

December: 9 fishing days (6 to 7 December / 13 to 14 December / 16 December / 21 to 22    December/ 27 to 28 December)

January: 2 fishing days (3 to 4 January)

Easter weekend: 4 fishing days

The proposed TAC proposal only serves to confirm the parlous state of our lobster stocks and that the department's compliance strategies (what ever they are), are not working. These compliance and management failures are also clearly apparent in the abalone, line fish and other sectors where poaching and irresponsible fishing practices are rapidly on the increase.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Abalone Industry Rejects 43 Ton Proposed TAC

The South African abalone industry, representing some 300 small-scale commercial abalone divers, has unanimously rejected the department's proposed 43 ton annual catch limit for the upcoming 2014/2015 fishing season. 

In a brief note addressed to the Deputy Director-General of Fisheries, Mr Mortimer Mannya, and copied to his boss, the Director-General of DAFF, Prof Edith Vries, the industry records their opposition to the proposed 43 ton TAC on the following bases:

1. Right holders had previously provided a comprehensive submission explaining why a 43 ton TAC would not make rational management sense. It appears as if this submission has not been read or understood according to the email. 

2. The proposed reduction to the TAC "fails to comprehend" that the single greatest threat to the viability of abalone stocks is the illegal fishery and not the legal fishery. 

3. The Department continues to not implement an anti-paoching initiative and accordingly the department's statements about reducing poaching are "nonsensical". 

The industry has instead proposed a 127 ton TAC. In addition, it is proposed that the department allow for abalone fishing at Dyer Island and that the present experimental fishery in the False Bay be opened to commercial fishing. The illegal abalone fishery accounts for the loss of at least 2000 tons of abalone annually, while department confiscates approximately 120 tons of this (6%), which is then sold by DAFF for profit in competition with the legal industry. 

Oyster Exemptions Granted After SA Human Rights Commission Intervenes

The Fisheries Department finally issued exemptions to those oyster right holders who were not re-allocated their rights during the failed and unlawful 2013 fishing rights allocation process. 

The issuing of exemptions - on (or about) 9 October 2014 - meant that for some 10 months oyster harvesters were forced into poverty or illegality as DAFF refused to allocate these harvesters their exemptions despite acknowledging that the FRAP 2013 was unlawful back in April 2014. 

And the only reason these exemptions were issued is because one former right holder approached the Human Rights Commission for assistance. DAFF similarly only issued exemptions to abalone right holders after the Public Protector became involved. And relief for the line fishers came only after a court order and unprecedented public anger and outcry. 

DAFF continues to ignore tuna and demersal shark harvesters who were not re-allocated their respective fishing rights in terms of FRAP 2013. The message to these right holders is clear. If you want DAFF to stop ignoring you, use the Constitutional institutions such as the Public Protector and SA Human Rights Commission. Access to these institutions is free and they have clearly proved effective. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

DAFF Proposes 43 Ton Abalone TAC!

The Fisheries Department issued an email to the representatives of abalone right holders on 1 October stating that it is considering allocating a 43 ton catch limit for the 2014/2015 abalone season which commences on 1 November 2014. 

The most relevant part of the email issued by DAFF states that - 

"The recommendation is based on the management objectives of preventing the abalone spawning biomass in each zone to drop below 20% of its pre-exploitation level and to ensure that it recovers to 40% of that level within 15 years (i.e. by the 2024/2025 season). The recommendation to achieve a 40% recovery goal is coupled with a targeted 15% reduction per annum in the current level of poaching for a period of 15 years.  The recommendation for the abalone TACs for zones A and B are as a result of notably declining trends in Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) over past four years and a decline in densities of abalone in zones C, D and F. The decrease in abalone TACs for zone E and G by 10% emanates from increased levels of poaching and is in line with the maximum annual reduction permitted under the current decision rules. 
A submission by commercial abalone zonal representative on the proposed Scientific Recommendation for the 2014/2015 abalone TAC was received by the Department. In this submission the commercial abalone zonal representatives requested that they be consulted prior to finalisation of the abalone TAC submission or final determination of the abalone TAC for the 2014/2015 fishing season."

The emails states further that the 43 ton allocation proposal will result in the complete closure of all Overberg fishing zones - namely Zones A, B, C and D (Arniston, Gansbaai, Hawston/Hermanus and Kleinmond, respectively). The only catch allowances will be for Zone E / Cape Peninsula (10,8 tons), Zone F / Robben Island (16 tons) and Zone G (West Coast) (16,2 tons). 

In our view, the proposed reduction of the TAC is nonsensical and will not assist with the recovery of abalone stocks. We have stated previously that to insist on implementing a management strategy that keeps reducing the TAC without putting in place a successful compliance strategy that focusses on keeping abalone in the sea (as opposed to a strategy that focusses on confiscating poached product for sale) is the definition of insanity.

All the available research and data points to the fact that poaching continues to increase and that is because DAFF simply does not have the will and resources to significantly reduce poaching. The will is lacking because DAFF simply cannot afford to not keep collecting illegally harvested abalone which it sells for profit in competition with the very industry it is supposed to be regulating. DAFF's refrain year in and year out that the fishery will recover to this and that level if poaching miraculously decreases by a massive 15% each year is fantasy! If poaching has not reduced since 2009, surely your "compliance" strategy is a failure and needs to be dumped? Back in 2003, it took only 6 months of evaluation and consultation to realise that "Operation Neptune" was a failure. Its replacement - Operation Trident - focussed on keeping abalone in the sea through a 3-pronged strategy, premised on - 

  • prosecuting poachers and their bosses in dedicated Green Courts, resulting in the successful convictions of poaching bosses Elizabeth Marx and Jason Ross in 2004 and an 80% conviction rate in these courts as opposed to a 10% conviction rate in the normal magistrates' courts; 
  • preventative compliance by fishery control officers on slipways and beaches, which included ensuring that the FCO's were properly equipped with the appropriate tools to deter and prevent poaching (such as super-ducks and night surveillance equipment). The financial penalty for poaching was also increased from a maximum of R40,000 to R800,000; and
  • disrupting the organised and syndicated trade in abalone by arresting syndicate leaders and traders of illegal abalone.

According to the accepted data, poachers currently remove nothing less than 2000 tons of abalone annually from Western Cape waters. Prof Peter Britz of Rhodes University has previously reported that a similar amount of abalone was being removed from Eastern Cape waters back in 2008. Further, according to research by TRAFFIC, DAFF's ability to even confiscate illegal product has collapsed from an estimated 16% to 6% in 2013. That means poachers are increasingly effective in getting away with poaching. If one accepts the 6% confiscation rate, then DAFF is actually confiscating and selling approximately 100 tons of abalone annually (that is if one completely ignores the illegal take from the Eastern Cape!). One hundred tons is more than the total 2013/2014 catch allowance for the commercial abalone fishery! The sale of 100 tons of abalone would generate a conservative net annual profit of approximately $2 million dollars / R22 million for DAFF (assuming an average sale price of US $200/kg for dried abalone and that dried abalone is approximately 10% of the weight of wet, shucked abalone).

For DAFF to meet its own stated objective of reducing poaching by 15% means that it will have to ensure that no less than 300 tons of abalone remains in the sea. DAFF's compliance abilities clearly cannot reduce poaching by even a single percentage, let alone 15% but each year it makes the same ludicrous statement, which the public and industry are expected to swallow.

Reducing the TAC from 150 tons (2012/2013 season) to 96 tons (last season) to the proposed 43 tons  for the 2014/2015 season will not assist in the recovery of our abalone stocks. Our abalone stocks will only be saved from complete decimation when DAFF actually implements a management and compliance strategy that commits the necessary resources and will to keeping abalone in the sea as opposed to confiscating illegally harvested product for later sale and profit for the Marine Living Resources Fund. 

Until this happens, law-abiding, tax-paying right holders who employ hard-working people along our coast will continue to be punished for DAFF's failures. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Prof George Branch's View on an SA Limpet Fishery

In response to my suggestion that we should consider a small-scale commercial limpet fishery, Professor George Branch has provided a concise but convincing riposte. Professor Branch advises against such a fishery for the following ecological, economic and practical reasons.

First, limpets are keystone species that regulate community composition on rocky shores.

Second, if you remove them, their space is speedily occupied by alien mussels.

Third, even on the west coast where their abundance is greatest, sustainable yields can only be set at about 7-10 tons, which is hardly an economically viable amount.

Fourth, the quality of our limpets is not of the same quality as the South American limpets, which have a delicate, soft flesh. Accordingly, our limpets would command a considerably lower market price.

Finally, if we cannot control illegality in our abalone fishery, then the significantly more accessible limpets are doomed if a targeted fishery is opened.

Prof Branch does however support the remaining suggestions I make pertaining to the expansion of our fisheries economy.