Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Management of the Lobster and Abalone Fisheries: The Definition of Insanity

Yes, we know that one mad scientist once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. 

Madness indeed. Not to mention a lack of creativity and the inability to think laterally too! Consider the insane manner in which the SA abalone and lobster industries and the department have been trying to manage the collapse of these two fisheries over the past 8 years at least. 

Common to both fisheries is that they are wracked by massive levels of illegality - both illegal and unregulated forms of fishing. And of course both fish stocks are heavily depleted particularly in specific management zones. 

Also common to both fisheries is that the respective industries and fisheries managers insist year-in and year-out that the fishery must be managed by cutting catch allocations and wishing that poaching will magically reduce itself by massive percentages which will then result in the recovery of the fishery. 

And then they are all surprised the following year when biomass levels plumb new depths while poaching hits another record high! Damn its frustrating watching all this head scratching and an inability by industry bodies to start laying down the law and demand that their investments be protected - after all why are they paying all these levies and fees to the Marine Living Resources Fund? 

In the case of the abalone fishery, the greatest single threat to the fishery - which is agreed upon by all parties around the head-scratching table - is the rampant poaching estimated to be nothing less than 2000 tons annually (compared to the legal wild harvest take of 95 tons). So how exactly will penalising law abiding abalone right holders who create jobs, pay taxes and invest legitimately in our coastal towns and cities help recover the fishery is beyond me. Not to mention that the department's only apparent compliance strategy is to arrest poachers with poached abalone so that it can sell the illicit product for profit. This is not a compliance strategy focussed on ensuring that abalone remains in the ocean. And you are surprised that abalone poaching increases each year? 

Similarly with lobster, the allocation of 2000 minuscule and unviable "interim-relief" quotas of 140 kg-per-person-per-season is nothing more than an invitation to over-catch, especially given the rampant corruption and illegality that defines the conduct of this segment of the fishery. The lobster fishery cannot sustain 2000 interim relief lobster fishers in addition to the 850 small-scale commercial and 250 commercial trap-boat fishers. The abrupt closure of multiple fishing zones earlier this year even before the small-scale fishery closed on 30 June is another shot across the bow confirming the the insanity of trying to manage the fishery by cutting TAC's and hoping for a compliance miracle.

Abalone and lobster poaching have become accepted career choices these days in many coastal communities such as Hout Bay, Hawston, Paternoster, Lamberts Bay and Gansbaai. The consequences, if any, are inconsequential. The last time an abalone poaching syndicate was dismantled by law enforcement was back in 2004! In addition, the current ill-advised management practices (driven by populist politics) that promise more and more people access to smaller and smaller stakes in the fisheries will lead us to spectacular resource failure. 

Cutting TAC's to legitimate right holders and hoping for a compliance miracle are not solutions. 

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