Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Avoid Lobster Mortalities & Reap the Profits

Any lobster fisherman knows that a live lobster is better than a dead or dying lobster. The difference is literally worth a small fortune and means a great deal for small-scale lobster fishers particularly who have much smaller quotas than the larger commercial operators.

Having observed the way lobsters are fished, handled, transported and packed over the years, it is little wonder why lobster mortality rates in the small-scale and interim relief sectors are so high. High mortalities not only affect the incomes generated by these fishers, but also - I would argue - support the rampant growth in the illegal fishing of lobsters so as to make up for income losses.

Why has the conversation in the lobster fishery not shifted from arguments about more and more quotas to how do we maximise incomes and profits from the sale of lobsters based on current quota sizes? Why have fishers organisations, including the West Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association, Coastal Links and SAUFF, not invested in training small scale lobster fishers in techniques to ensure lower (if not near zero) mortality rates and higher market prices?

For example, how many lobster fishers appreciate that proper and delicate handling techniques immediately after harvesting are crucial to ensuring lobster survival and health? Lobsters are delicate animals as a result of their strange anatomy. Lobster's also suffer stress quite easily which results in mortality. So treat them gently and with care and reap the financial rewards.

Here are some handling tips:

  • Whether using traps or hoop nets, ensure that lobsters are lifted slowly and carefully from the water to avoid inducing unnecessary stress and damage. 
  • Dont dump your harvest on the deck or in the bins. Remove lobsters from the traps / net gently.
  • Keep lobsters moist with sea water - fresh water over their gills (from ice) can increase mortality.
  • When packing them, don't overpack bins. Use moist and soft packaging to cushion them and make sure they all face the same direction. 
  • Do everything to avoid stressing lobsters. Avoid unnecessary and substantial temperature shifts, low oxygen levels, exposure to high ammonia levels or other dissolved toxins, changes in salinity, crowding and aggression.
  • Once placed in purging tanks (especially after they have been out of sea water for some time), ensure that lobsters are moved from the initial purging tank to another as they release built-up ammonia shortly after being placed back into sea water. You don't want your freshly purged lobsters to remain in ammonia saturated waters as this will increase mortality rates substantially. 

The FRAP 2013 Fixer-Upper

The catastrophe that was the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process involving 8 commercial and small-scale commercial fisheries and 979 right holders is finally on the cusp of being remedied ... at least as best as one can repair a fishing rights allocation process as flawed, irrational and damaging to our fishing communities as the 2013 process has been. 

I, together with Mamakhe Mdhuli (an attorney from Johannesburg) and Professor Julian Smith (former Vice Rector at Stellenbosch), commenced the FRAP 2013 remedial process some 10 months ago on the instruction of Minister Senzeni Zokwana and with the support the current DDG of Fisheries, Ms Siphokazi Ndudane. I was initially approached by the Minister and Ms Ndudane more than 12 months ago to determine whether I would consider assisting the Minister repair the damage caused by the ill-advised FRAP 2013 process. 

The extent of the remedial process has been limited to what we - as an appeals advisory team - could lawfully undertake given the extremely flawed foundations upon which the FRAP 2013 were initially determined. 

A key concern identified by the Minister across all 8 fishery sectors that he has considered to date (including the more than 560 traditional line fish appeals awaiting final determination), is that fishing rights were allocated to so many new entrants who did not have access to suitable or any fishing vessels and who lacked any ability and knowledge to fish. That would explain why less than 25% of all allocated hake handline fishing rights were activated in 2015. Or why less than 10% of new entrants in the traditional line fishery applied for a fishing permit since having been allocated a right since January 2014. 

The allocation of fishing rights to applicants who do not have access to vessels; who do not know how to fish; or do not have the resources and capital to put a vessel to sea because they cannot pay for fuel, bait, insurance or crew costs means that fish prices go up due to reduced supply and less local crew have jobs. Just consider the price of fish over Easter since 2014. Snoek prices before Easter 2014 hovered at R150 a fish. Easter 2016 saw snoek at R200 and more. Low income households who depend on local line caught fish (snoek, Hottentot, geelbek, Roman) as a food source simply cannot afford these prices. 

The Minister is presently wrapping up the traditional line fish appeals process. There are a number of investigations being undertaken by the forensic audit firm, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, which arose from the provisional list comment period. These investigations principally concern appellants who may have misrepresented their involvement in the fishery, their catch performance or their compliance history. 

The FRAP 2013 remedial measures will continue for some time after the Minister announces the final decisions in the traditional line fishery. Principal amongst these will be the cancellation of fishing rights allocated to persons who have failed to utilise their rights since 2014. Other measures will include monitoring the ongoing catching performance of right holders, especially those in the shark demersal fishery to ensure that CITES listed species are not targeted and harvested. In the white mussel fishery, the new management system of allocating multiple rights in most of the seven harvesting zones needs monitoring to determine if it meets the objectives set by the Minister.