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More questions than answers for fisheries
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More questions than answers for fisheries

DFFE parliamentary portfolio committee report

SOUTH AFRICA: Members of the Forestry, Fisheries and Environment portfolio committee raised a number of questions that remain successfully answered by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) at a meeting held during the second half of March.

Dr Kim Prochazka, Chief Director: Fisheries Research and Development, DFFE presented a summary on the status of the South African Marine Fisheries Resources noting that these were only updated every second year prompting a response that these reports should occur more often and at least annually.

Fisheries under pressure

Representing South Africa’s largest fisheries, small pelagics are dominated by anchovy which, although showing an increase in 2020 – was not surveyed in 2021 and the 2022 results are still being finalised.

Dr Prochazka noted that sardine catches had been at an all-time low (5 300 tons) in 2019, but that there has been a slight recovery since. A total of 274,000 t of anchovy, redeye round herring and sardine were caught in 2022. This was below both the long-term (333,000 t) and short-term (287,000 t) averages.

West Coast Rock Lobster continues to be of concern as stocks have declined for a number of reasons including illegal harvesting.

Discussing the linefisheries, Dr Prochazka admitted that current management measures were insufficient for some severely depleted linefish, such as red steenbras, dageraad and white stumpnose. “The slow translation of scientific recommendations into management regulations was a concern. Illegal activities, such as drone fishing, further impacted over-exploited species such as silver kob,” she said.

Abalone poaching a continued issue

The presentation from DFFE projected that the abalone resource was likely to decline even further if the levels of illegal harvesting continued. The resource has suffered major declines despite the closure of the recreational fishery as well as the temporary closure of the commercial fishery.

A member of the committee, Mogamad Nazier Paulsen, objected to the fact that small scale fishers were being criminalised for “poaching” abalone and suggested that the resource should be reallocated to them to satisfy markets and taken away from the commercial sector. He maintained that this would eliminate the poaching problem.  

“Such fishers would be able to supply the market and support their families. Government did not care about poor black people. Poachers were being criminalised for wanting to eke out a living for themselves and to take care of their families,” he said.

Responding to comments relating to the abalone resource, Sue Middleton, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Fisheries Management, DFFE, confirmed that China, Hong Kong, and the Far East were the main buyers of illegally-caught abalone and WCRL and admitted that future engagement with its Chinese colleagues through the BRICS forum required more focus.

She also noted that abalone (and increasingly WCRL) poaching was a syndicated crime and that community-based poachers were at the bottom of that value chain and were not seeing the profits of the illicit trade.

She added that DFFE had hosted a week-long anti-poaching workshop at the end of February that brought together all the role players, including the poachers, communities, commercial fishers, small-scale farmers fishers, government, NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs).

“The Department tried to get all stakeholders involved in the abalone fishery together, and to develop an integrated strategy that dealt not just with enforcement and compliance efforts, but also looked at management and international issues, including trying to understand the international value chain,” she said.

According to Middleton, the Department will be releasing a strategy for public comment on dealing with the problem shortly.

Monitoring and compliance

A number of members of the portfolio committee questioned the adequacy of the Department’s ability to monitor compliance across a number of fisheries.

Annerie Maria Magdalena Weber asked whether there was a plan to reinstate the fisheries observer programme and whether a tender would be released in this regard. Hannah Shameema Winkler said that she was concerned that the programme was not operational due to strain on the Department’s available resources. 

Also concerned with the ability of South Africa to monitor compliance, Narend Singh asked Dr Prochazka whether they are equipped to observe what was happening, both inshore and onshore?

Dr Prochazka confirmed that the observer programme had come to an end and that the Department had been unable to reinstate it again because of budgetary requirements. She noted that thoughts for the future of the programme centred around a “user pays” model. This is how the hake deep-sea trawl fishery had continued to host observers on board in order to meet its Marine Stewardship Council requirements. Similarly, the horse mackerel midwater trawl fishery was required to pay for observers on their vessels for 100% of their fishing operations.

According to her, a number of different models were being investigated in order to reintroduce observer programmes into the different sectors.

Responding on the extent to which the Department was able to enforce adherence to TACs, TAEs and other permit conditions, Middleton said it had its own compliance capacity in-house via its fishing control inspectors, but admitted that its inspectors were expected to cover far too much coastline to be effective. She said that the government did not have the funds to increase capacity, but that a dedicated enforcement strategy was being developed via Operation Phakisa.

In the meantime, the Department is in the process of appointing a number of catch data monitors through the Working for Fisheries programme. The monitors will be deployed along the coastline at all the harbours and landing sites to accurately record the fish landed.

This is a project that had been previously operational and was about to be reinstated.

Aquaculture under the spotlight

Paulsen was also interested in the state of the aquaculture industry – pointing to developments being seen in China, he said that South Africa was lagging behind when it came to aquaculture. Noting that developing South Africa’s aquaculture industry would reduce the strain on the oceans, he also said that it would force fishing companies to invest elsewhere – accusing the large fishing companies of “destroying” the oceans.

He wanted to see the Department compel companies to invest more in the sector and also asked how much DFFE was investing in hatcheries to increase fishing stock. Paulsen suggested that an oversight visit to aquaculture facilities be organised to investigate the status of some of the projects that had been started in previous years.

Other members of the committee called for more information on freshwater aquaculture in order to undertake their oversight role.

The Department responded that abalone ranching, seeding and putting fish back into the water would be a focus of an upcoming abalone workshop.  Furthermore, they acknowledged a large and successful abalone ranching project in the Eastern Cape, and the intention of rolling our ranching in other areas. There are also successful hatchery and fingerling farms.

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