Friday, May 23, 2014

Abalone Sector to be Closed?

Die Burger newspaper reports this morning that in an exclusive interview with the paper, the Fisheries Minister makes the shocking revelation that the abalone fishery may in fact be closed! Again. And AGAIN without any prior consultation or communication with communities and right holders. 

Marthinus van Schalkwyk closed the fishery back in 2007 on poor advice and without consulting communities and right holders, only for Joemat-Pettersson to re-open it 2 years later - clearly admitting that there was never any scientific justification for the closure in the first place. And during the 2 year closure period, we saw poaching skyrocket to an estimated 4000 tons annually. The reality of course was that the poachers benefitted hugely from the sudden and unregulated closure, which is what we face again. History and its lessons are certainly irrelevant to our Fisheries Minister and her advisers. 

Just like Van Schalkwyk, who promised that abalone right holders will be accommodated in other sectors (such as the whale watching and shark diving sectors!!), this Minister is making the same empty promises. The reality was that abalone right holders were simply abandoned after the closure of the fishery which forced many to turn to poaching, which is what they continue to do having learnt how easy it is given the near complete lack of fisheries compliance and enforcement. 

The warning of imminent closure by Joemat-Pettersson is, in our opinion, an option to enable the department to escape the consequences of not having prepared for the re-allocation of fishing rights in the abalone fishery in 66 days (ie 30 July). So, instead of admitting to this failure, the option appears to be a unilateral and sudden decision to close the fishery!

A decision to close the fishery at this stage will however be illegal and contrary to the requirements of fair and justifiable administrative action as there has never been any prior consultation or communication with right holders, communities and stakeholders on the possible closure of an entire fishery. One could simply scan the minutes of departmental and industry working group committee meetings over the past 2 years. If indeed closure was being considered, why did the department (its scientists and managers) never raise this squarely with industry representatives and commence a formal consultation process about the consequences of closure? And let us not forget, that the department had admitted in 2013 that its scientific premises about historical abalone biomass may in fact be incorrect, which would affect the determination of current TAC data and models. 

It is incredible that immediately after receiving the damning report on the illegalities of the 2013 fishing rights allocation process, the Department and Minister will proceed to cause even further socio-economic harm to our small-scale fishery sectors. Now it appears to be the turn of abalone right holders and the communities that depend on this resource. 

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