Thursday, July 17, 2014

The 2014 Fisheries Budget Vote

On Wednesday 16 July 2014, Minister Zokwana delivered his first budget vote for the agriculture, forestry and fisheries department (DAFF). Given the catastrophic state we find are our fisheries department and sectors in, the expectation was that the Minister would provide clear direction on the remedial measures he would be implementing. He has, after-all, been the Minister for more than 2 months now and ought to be well-versed in fisheries and rot he inherited from Joemat-Pettersson.

To say the Minister's address pertaining to fisheries (all 236 words) was disappointing is perhaps being extremely diplomatic. The Minister had essentially nothing to say about fisheries! He did not address the most pertinent and pressing issues affecting fisheries management, including the following- 

  • the rampant corruption that has become institutionalised at the fisheries department. Despite the damning allegations of maladministration and corruption against Desmond Stevens and Dennis Fredericks, both remain employed at DAFF with Fredericks even chairing meetings! The Minister said nothing about fixing the institutional mess that continues to plague this department; 
  • the failure by his department to implement a rights allocation process for the abalone fishery. Rights in this fishery expire at the end of July!
  • the upcoming 2015 fishing rights allocation process. The first set of fishing rights need to be allocated in less than 7 months' time!
  • The Minister did not address the growing community conflict and allegations of mismanagement and corruption affecting the "interim relief" quotas and community based quotas. His department is presently being overwhelmed with complaints of maladministration, illegality and mismanagement by self-styled community representatives who appear to conduct themselves as mafia bosses operating "community" quotas as their personal income streams! 
As far as the 2013 fishing rights allocation process is concerned, which was confirmed to be unlawful and indefensible by his predecessor, the Minister stated that "[t]he fishing rights allocation process (FRAP) of 2013 has been reviewed independently of the Department and I have received the final report. I am consulting with the State Attorney’s office on the legal feasibility of the various options to institute corrective measures where weaknesses have been identified. I will make an announcement in due course on the path to correct these anomalies.

Seven months after the illegal and destructive 2013 FRAP, and there is no clarity! The Minister's 236 words on fisheries I fear confirm that neither him nor his team actually have any solutions to offer. 

We were told that the fisheries sector forms an "...important element of the Ocean Economy Strategy, "Operation Phakisa". Huh? We are not told what this Operation Phakisa is or how exactly it will fix fisheries management in this country. Instead, what we do know is that "Operation Phakisa", according to the minister " still in incubation..."! Is this just another still-born plan which will result in nothing? 

With respect to fish farming, the Minister stated that "[a]quaculture development would ensure we close the fish protein gap that may be created by the declining marine capture fish resources. Under Operation Phakisa we plan to grow the aquaculture sector value from two billion rand, as according to our 2010 figures, to up to six billion rand with a potential job creation of up to two hundred and ten thousand (210 000) by 2030." 

The Minister is correct. Growing aquaculture is indeed key to reducing pressures on wild capture fisheries but the Minister's data and expectations appear to be grossly inflated. For one, the value of farmed SA fish is stated at R2 billion as at 2010. Surely not! Our data - based on information from Aquaculture Institute of South Africa - benchmarked the total value of fish production in SA (marine and freshwater) at R327,4 million, which is substantially less than R2 billion! And the Minister wants to increase this value to R6 billion by 2030 and create 200,000 jobs? Perhaps someone needs to inform the Minister that fish farming is not  labour intensive - it is rather skills intensive! For example, South Africa's largest abalone farm, ABAGOLD, which produces approximately 440 tons of abalone annually, employs 350 people. 

The 20 odd abalone farmers in the country employ a total of just over 2000 people and the abalone industry accounts for approximately half of all jobs in the South African fish farming industry. To increase job numbers to 200,000 is simply gobbledegook and confirms that when government sprouts these numbers, they have simply sucked these numbers out of their thumbs. Think about it. Where will the land for all these farms come from? And the water? Fresh and sea-water? What about the electricity needed to keep just one farm running? There is presently not enough electricity to build one additional fish farm in the Overberg! And what about the number of fish veterinarians and farm managers that will be needed? And what species will be farmed? 

Why make such unrealistic and unattainable promises that only set you up for failure? Why not set attainable and realistic goals ... to be achieved in say 5 years' time as opposed to 2030? (Of course by 2030, the Minister will not be around to account for the failure to achieve these objectives). 

Our next BLOG article will consider the response by the DA as the official opposition in Parliament to the Minister's budget speech. 

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