Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Growing Horse Mackerel Experimental Fracas

There is no doubt that the current litigation brought by the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) and former right holders in the horse mackerel fishery (excluding the largest current operator, Blue Continent Products (Pty) Ltd) against, inter alia, the Minister of Fisheries and Global Pact Trading 193 (Pty) Ltd (the recipient of the experimental permit) is newsworthy and of legal interest. For one, the litigation will determine the scope and extent of Ministerial power under Section 83 of the Marine Living Resources Act, which gives the Minister a wide discretion to permit any scientific or practical experiment. 

It is no secret that I was recently re-appointed by the Minister to advise him defend the case brought by SADSTIA and various members of the horse mackerel industry (the Applicants). The Minister had sought my services - as I understand - because of my previous successful advisory role as Chairperson of the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process appeals committee (June 2015 - May 2016). As chairperson of the appeals committee, together with my colleagues Prof Julian Smith and Attorney, Mamakhe Mdhluli, we successfully navigated the treacherous appeals waters and prevented the Minister facing any litigation. 

In addition, my publicly stated support for the restructuring, expansion and re-alignment of the Horse Mackerel fishery has long been on record. As part of the drafting team who penned the 2005 Horse Mackerel Fishing Policy, I had personally drafted the "Objectives" clause of that Policy document which mandated the horse mackerel industry to re-think the way South African horse mackerel is processed and marketed. To this very day, our entire horse mackerel stock is caught by a single dedicated mid-water trawler on behalf of the entire industry. This catch is block-frozen at sea, transhipped and exported to countries such as Angola, Zambia and the DRC without creating a single job on South African soil. None of this low-value but protein rich fish is made available to poor South Africans (or any person living within our borders, for that matter).  

Unfortunately, the South African horse mackerel fishing industry maintained this status quo despite the above mentioned key policy objective of the long term horse mackerel fishing rights allocation. And of course, the Fisheries Department - for whatever reason - chose to support the maintenance of the status quo ... until at least December 2015 when an experimental permit was granted to Global Pact Trading 193 (Pty) Ltd to investigate the possibility of (a) expanding the size and extent of the horse mackerel fishery to the West Coast of South Africa and (b) landing horse and processing horse mackerel on South African soil and selling horse mackerel to South Africa's rural poor communities. 

The Global Pact application for an experimental horse mackerel permit was first made in August 2012 and was motivated and supported by Feike as consultants to Global Pact Trading 193 (Pty) Ltd and a Namibian fishing enterprise called Kuiseb Fishing. Unfortunately, this application was rejected by DAFF and subsequently the Minister at the time, Tina Joemat-Petterssen. In 2014, Global Pact, on the advice of a Cape Town-based attorney's firm subjected a fresh application which resulted in the successful issue of the current exploratory permit in December 2015. 

In July 2016, SADSTIA and the Applicants filed an application to interdict the Minister and Global Pact from fishing the exploratory permit and secondly to review and set side the Minister's decision to reject SADSTIA's appeal against the December 2015 decision to grant the permit. The SADSTIA application was authored by Dr Johan Augustyn, who had served as the Department's Chief Director of Fisheries Research until August 2014, whereafter he left government to join the Fishing Industry as the Secretary of SADSTIA. 

The State Respondents will be filing their answering affidavit in response to the SADSTIA application papers shortly. It is therefore impermissible for me to discuss or debate the content or nature of the answering papers. 

However, what is worth mentioning is that SADSTIA has seen fit in a supplementary affidavit to allege an apparent conflict of interest involving my role as the Minister's consultant adviser. It is quite ironic for SADSTIA and Dr Augustyn to make such an allegation given that there is no direct or indirect conflict of interest involving Feike or myself (as neither I nor Feike had any role to play in the decision to refuse or grant the permit application by Global Pact and of course the application we submitted on behalf of Global Pact Trading and Kuiseb Fishing in 2012 was rejected ... by Dr Augustyn in January 2013). 

And therein lays the irony of the allegation of a conflict of interest by SADSTIA and Dr Augustyn. Between 2012 and 2014 Dr Augustyn presided over a series of applications and decided against Global Pact (and thus maintained the status quo in the horse mackerel fishery which undeniably was in SADSTIA and the Applicants' collective interest).  

Dr Augustyn then resigned as Chief Director of Fisheries Research and took up employment as the secretary of SADSTIA, which is the very body he was responsible for overseeing and regulating as Chief Director. 

The allegations by SADSTIA and the Applicants that I am somehow conflicted in providing advisory services to the Minister on a matter I had no part in deciding does however further confirm the weakness of the substantive merits of their case. One raises vexatious and spurious allegations in a bid to distract judicial attention from the actual merits of ones case. 

Remember, while the Applicants have loudly proclaimed their decision to take the Minister on review in the media, they have conveniently been quiet of the fact that they had already abandoned their Part A application to seek an interdict against the Minister. One leg down, second to follow shortly. 

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