Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is there a solution to the lobster poaching scourge?

There is no doubt that the scourge of illegality afflicting our high value inshore fisheries such as lobster and abalone will completely decimate these mainstay fisheries in the not too distant future. There is broad agreement about this. 

We must also accept that the Fisheries Department will never be able to realise their "recovery plans" given the dearth of skills, ability, resources and budgets available. That the system of long term fishing rights - meant to encourage legality and investment in fisheries - is fast collapsing with each approaching re-allocation process and being replaced with chaotic and valueless "exemptions", will only spur on illegality. 

We are witnessing the intrusion of increasing levels of organised criminality into the lobster fishery. These forms of organised criminality are usually associated with the gang-run abalone poaching syndicates. 

So how does the South African commercial lobster industry protect the jobs it sustains, their  investments and foreign markets and ultimately the resource they depend on. With stocks at 3% of pristine and any recovery plan proposed by the department a pipe-dream at best, the obligation to protect lobster stocks must fall (almost entirely) to the commercial industry. 

The introduction 8 years ago of the class of "interim relief" operators which currently number some 2000 people each harvesting a poverty-inducing 100kg per season is the perfect license to poach and ensures that the few hardworking fishery control officers left stand little chance at successfully ensuring compliance. 

Given that these 2000 "fishers" (many can hardly be described as such) have been "conditioned" to receiving this type of social grant from the Fisheries Department, it is presently incomprehensible to suggest simply removing this annual fisheries social grant. 

Accepting the anarchy of populism and that the Fisheries Department is completely impotent when it comes to responsible fisheries management and compliance, how do we save our lobsters from annihilation? 

Unlike the abalone fishery, the lobster fishery has a substantial industrial commercial fishery and it is this sector of the fishery that could possibly save our lobster ... if indeed they accept the burden to act responsibly and ensure a fastidious commitment to the rule of law. My suggestion would be that the interim relief sector (or even individual communities of interim relief fishers) forsake their minuscule and unprofitable quotas and not go to sea at all. In return, the commercial fishing industry should partner with and invest in these coastal communities and commit to investing in sustainable economic ventures such as small-scale fish farms, large scale seaweed harvesting and exporting, fig harvesting and marketing, full-time employment in fish processing factories or on commercial fishing vessels, or in other appropriate economic sectors. 

However, to continue exposing lobster stocks to the current unsustainable effort levels is unsustainable, reckless and a recipe for coastal poverty and social upheaval. 

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