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! 

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