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.