In response to my suggestion that we should consider a small-scale commercial limpet fishery, Professor George Branch has provided a concise but convincing riposte. Professor Branch advises against such a fishery for the following ecological, economic and practical reasons.
First, limpets are keystone species that regulate community composition on rocky shores.
Second, if you remove them, their space is speedily occupied by alien mussels.
Third, even on the west coast where their abundance is greatest, sustainable yields can only be set at about 7-10 tons, which is hardly an economically viable amount.
Fourth, the quality of our limpets is not of the same quality as the South American limpets, which have a delicate, soft flesh. Accordingly, our limpets would command a considerably lower market price.
Finally, if we cannot control illegality in our abalone fishery, then the significantly more accessible limpets are doomed if a targeted fishery is opened.
Prof Branch does however support the remaining suggestions I make pertaining to the expansion of our fisheries economy.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
It is the parlance of our time. Ask any politician what he aims to do with the sector he is supposedly presiding over in this country and he will say that he must "transform" it or "accelerate the transformation". Stock standard. One answer fits all. The reality is that it is gobbledegook aimed solely at appeasing the growing masses of people who all want "some more" from the same pot. Pity Mr Bumble today!
The soup pot is nearing empty but the Olivers are demanding much more than the pot can imagine to offer. The problem is that our Mr Bumbles keep promising more soup for years without bothering to go to the market and get more ingredients and re-stock the kitchen.
That of course explains (in great part) why our nearshore stocks such as lobster and abalone are being plundered at breathtaking rates.
In my upcoming article in Maritime Reporter, I once again make the case that there is little sense in allocating interim relief lobster exemptions as they are nothing more than poverty traps, forcing communities into conflict and decimating resources as the quotas are just too small.
The greatest problem that we face is the current and ongoing failed economic rant led by this government that focusses almost exclusively on the “redistribution” narrative. Unless we dump the idea of taking away from one to give to another (i.e. to punish the "previously advantaged"), failure is certain.
Our focus should surely be on expanding the fisheries economy not repeatedly divvying it up into smaller and smaller portions.
Feike has for years stated that our focus must be to simultaneously expand small-scale fish farming while also opening up new fisheries to exploitation. In 2008, the South African Presidency - then under the umbrella economic programme referred to as TIPS - accepted our suggestions for expanding the South African fisheries economy, which can be read here.
Our rather simple suggestions are the following:
1. Invest in the rapid expansion of pond-based fresh water farms such as tilapia to spur small-scale fish farming. Tilapia are hardy fish not easily susceptible to disease and they don’t require expensive feed. They are fast growing and reproduce rapidly and markets exist for tilapia of course. Consider that a poor, tiny and water poor country like Swaziland has more than 1000 small-scale pond based tilapia farmers.
2. Freeing up “dead" water space and factory space in harbours such as Hout Bay and St Helena to support oyster and mussel farming. We appear fixated as a country that the only marine species we should be farming is abalone.
3. Commercialising the Octopus fishery. This fishery has been an experimental fishery for some 8 years. The time is opportune for its commercialisation to spur investment and growth. We have established markets for octopus in Australia and elsewhere.
4. Develop an alikreukel fishery. Markets exist. It is a high-value inshore resource, which can be exploited exclusively by small-scale fishers.
5. Develop a "perdevoet" or limpet fishery. Again markets exist and it is also a high-value inshore resource perfect for small-scale commercial fishing.
6. Develop a round herring fishery. Once again, markets exist especially in the EU and it is a valuable pelagic resource that should be established as a distinct small-scale commercial small pelagic fishery.
7. Expand the horse mackerel fishery by committing proper research and moving away from the current practice of setting MPCL’s as opposed to a scientifically sound TAC.
8. Expand the value of the South African seaweed sector by investing in resources to develop more lucrative markets for our seaweeds, such as the rapidly growing organic health food and supplement industries.
It is incredible that despite the existence of these very real opportunities for growth and expansion, our fisheries managers remain unable to implement these possibilities. Instead, we will spend millions of rands on yet another never-to-succeed mega-project (such as Operation Phakamisa) and decades carving up overexploited fisheries in the name of "transformation". And then we wonder why nothing has transformed... for the better.
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.
The Minister of Fisheries and the department have conceded the review application that was brought by the South African Commercial Line Fishers Association ("SACLA") in February of this year.
On 11 August 2014, the State Attorney wrote to SACLA's attorneys stating that "our client [the Minister and the Department] intend conceding the review subject to successful negotiation with yourselves on certain issues." Despite requests for clarity on what these "certain issues", the State Attorney has not reverted to SACLA's lawyers.
This is even more incredible given that the State Attorney is certainly not in any position to negotiate a settlement given that they have missed all time periods to file a single set of papers explaining their decision; they have refused to discover a plethora of documents and records that were requested months ago and we all know that the Minister's own internal legal review of the process confirmed that the FRAP 2013 was unlawful on a number of levels. And given recent High Court decisions against the state (which included extremely harsh words for incompetent state attorneys who dragged matters out unnecessarily to the prejudice of taxpayers), we expect the Western Cape High Court to award a punitive costs order against the Minister and the department.
Our advice to SACLA is to now proceed with an application before a judge in chambers and obtain the order as set out in the initial papers, including (punitive) costs, as line fishers need to be reimbursed in full for their significant and unnecesary costs to date.
The effect of an order as applied for by the SACLA would be the following:
1. All line fishers that held rights as at 31 December 2013 (i.e. were long term right holders) would once again be considered right holders capable of fishing. This right to fish would remain in place until such time as a new rights allocation process is lawfully implemented, which will include a revised line fish policy passed by Cabinet, a new application form, fresh consultation processes and so forth;
2. All those persons that were granted rights as "new entrants" under FRAP 2013 will no longer be right holders and would have to stop fishing immediately as their "fishing rights" would be set aside. None of the new entrants opposed the review application.
3. Any other long term right holder in any other fishery such as the shark demersal and tuna pole sectors that were denied fishing rights under FRAP 2013 would be able to then apply to court and have their rights allocation process set aside based on the SACLA order.
Although we are told that the department's "senior management" have been awfully busy conceptualising the latest big "plan" to hit government speak - Operation Phakisa! - having much of the Cape Town winter in the balmy coastal village of Durban, these big ideas are frankly a waste of time and ill-advised when you can't do the basics such as allocating fishing rights, gazetting quota allocation fees (the last fees gazette was published on 10 September 2010!) and routing out the corrupt and inept. The department is like a novice walker talking about climbing Mount Everest next year but who still can't walk around Kirstenbosch Gardens without having to be stretchered away.
**It is important to note that despite more than 9 months having passed since the failed 2013 FRAP, the Minister of Fisheries has yet to gazette the section 25 grant of fishing rights fees as is required by law.