Fisheries patrol and research vessels, re-allocation of fishing rights: Department progress reports

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

18 February 2013
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee received a briefing from the Fisheries branch of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on status of fisheries patrol and research vessels; and progress made on the re-allocation of fishing rights. It noted that the main objectives and principles of the Marine Living Resources Act (MRLA), which was to be amended as part of the general overhaul of legislation, demanded management of marine living resources, in a fair and equitable manner, for the benefit of all the citizens of South Africa. The allocation of fishing rights was the primary mechanism to further transformation. Rights in eight sectors were due to expire and be subject to re-allocation applications, at the end of December 2013, with more due to be re-allocated in the next two years. The presentation touched on gaps in the existing policies and noted that Government intervention was needed into the MLRA and its regulations, the General Fisheries Policy and the Sector Specific Fisheries Policies. Certain procedures for the re-allocations were outlined, and described, and it was noted that inter-governmental task teams would be involved. There would be public consultations on the Rule Book, the criteria, and regulations and policies. The applications process was described. A SWOT analysis was summarised, with the main challenges and threats being identified as limited resources, which meant limited access, the growing population, increased operational costs of fishing, and the apportionment of allocations between sectors and entities. Threats comprised of limited time, the currently protracted bureaucratic processes, disruption and instability within the fishing sector, litigation by industry, and movement of new rights holders to economic hubs.

Members were very critical of the Report, stating, in essence, that nothing had changed since the previous year. DA and COPE Members, in particular, noted that they had warned the DAFF that a crisis was pending in the industry, but had been assured that all was well on track and only now had the DAFF admitted that this was not so and there were several problems that effectively put South Africa’s seas  and its industry into crisis. Members concentrated on the problems around the Memorandum of Understanding with the Navy in regard to the patrolling and research vessels, which effectively seemed to leave large sections of waters unprotected, and the huge challenge of piracy and poaching. They generally accepted that the Minister was in part responsible for the problems or at least for not bringing them specifically under the spotlight at Cabinet level. The DAFF appeared to have done nothing to protect perlemoen stocks and had presented no concrete plans to turn the situation around, nor to address the worrying backlogs in the quota allocation process. The meeting became quite heated at one point, but the Chairperson urged that Members move forward and said that at least DAFF had now admitted to problems. Members questioned what exactly had happened to the levies that DAFF collected, and whether the Fund was paying for patrols, observations and surveys, as well as the R800 million allocated for servicing, manning and maintenance of ships by the Navy. They also wanted reports on the new entrants, what the DAFF was doing about the fronting that was so rife in the industry, how it would handle cases where applicants complied but did not have their own boats, a full report on the surveys done, and missed, and where DAFF intended to get money for its operations. A full explanation was needed of the problems with the Navy agreements. The Committee agreed that DAFF needed to draft a comprehensive “war plan”, with specific details for every species in the sector, and exact plans for transformation. The Department gave a brief response in which it disputed that it was “in crisis”, although there were admitted problems, and undertook to supplement this with a full report.

Meeting report

Re-allocation of fishing rights: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefing
Ms Greta Apelgren-Narkedien, Deputy Director-General, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department), briefly outlined what her presentation covered. She said that the main objectives and principles of the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) were to provide for the management of marine living resources, in a fair and equitable manner, for the benefit of all the citizens of South Africa. The allocation of fishing rights was the primary mechanism to further transformation and to give effect to all principles and objectives as set out in section 2 of the MLRA. The MLRA would be amended as part of the department's overall legislative review.

She noted that on 31 December 2013, fishing right would expire in eight sectors. These were the  KwaZulu-Natal Prawn Trawl, Demersal Shark, Squid, Tuna Pole, Hake Handline, White Mussels, and Traditional Linefish sectors. Existing Abalone rights would expire on 31 July 2014. In 2015 there would be more expiring rights that affected most of the fish in South African seas.

The Department had identified gaps in the existing policies. Government interventions would be needed into the MLRA and its regulations, the General Fisheries Policy and the Sector Specific Fisheries Policies. In terms of the internal consultations on policy considerations, it would be necessary for DAFF to look at the duration of rights, transformation, new entrants, 2010 fisheries performance review, economic viability of rights, beneficiation, problems around fronting, support programmes, the right transfers, using consolidation by economic units, incorporation of limited commercial fisheries into the small scale fisheries sector, and closure of collapsing fisheries.

She noted that the legislative review was a milestone and pointed to the DAFF’s legislative review roadmap. There would be public consultation in terms of the MLRA and the regulations promulgated under this Act, as well as the General Fisheries Policy, and Sector Specific Fisheries Policies.

The procurement of service providers would be done in accordance with setting up of structures that would verify audit applications. DAFF would be setting up an Independent Rights Allocation Unit and also involving the Inter-Governmental Task Team, comprising of DAFF, South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), and of Labour (DoL) and the South African Revenue Services (SARS). There would be public consultation on the Industry Rule Book. The application forms would be based on set criteria and the Rule Book. There would be a determination of sizes of allocation, a call for rights application, with an outlined process, processing of application forms and data capturing, allocation by a delegated authority, calls for appeals, announcement of appeals, and amendments of rights registers.

Ms Apelgren-Narkedien said that the rights application process started when the Minister called for applications in the Government Gazette. The Minister would delegate authority to allocate fishing rights to one or two senior officials. Application forms and guidelines would be made available from all coastal offices. Application forms would be submitted to the Rights Verification Unit, including an application fee. An Independent Advisory Committee would assess each application.  The delegated authority would decide whether or not to allocate rights and record its decision. Quantums would be allocated to each successful applicant. The record of decisions would be made available to all coastal offices. Successful applicants would be allowed to apply for fishing licenses and vessel licenses, and unsuccessful applicants could decide whether or not to appeal the Minister’s decision.

Dr Johann Augustyn, Chief Director, DAFF, set out the analysis of strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities (SWOT) and said that stated that the Department’s strength lay in past experiences and the strong legislative framework. The main challenges were the limited resources, which meant limited access, the growing population, increased operational costs of fishing, and the apportionment of allocations between sectors and entities. He noted that the opportunities offered by improved social and economic benefits for the country could be a plus for the Department. There should be a Small Scale Fishing dispensation and the expansion of the under-utilised resources. He concluded that the departmental threats comprised of limited time, plus protracted bureaucratic processes, disruption and instability within the fishing sector, litigation by industry, and movement of new rights holders to economic hubs.

Discussion

Mr L Van Dalen (DA) said that the Department had gone from one disaster to another, starting with corruption at the Sekunjalo scheme. He said that the Sekunjalo company was started by the late Brett Kebble, who was a friend of the President and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Tina Joemat-Petterson. He believed that friendship had led the Minister to “hate anything that was white” and that had led to the troubles. The South African Navy (the Navy) and DAFF had misled the Committee, during a brief last year when they maintained that everything was on track, that payments had been made (which had not happened) and on the status of vessels.  Now the Committee was told the Navy could not meet the requirements that the Committee requested last year. DAFF was not telling the Committee that it was “strangling” the Navy to make good on its own payments. The Navy had to borrow money from the fuel fund to pay for repairs to these vessels, and had had to cease work when these funds dried up. By December, when the DAFF started payments, the work had already halted. He was astounded to see this called a “saving” by the DAFF. The Algoa vessel had been taken to dry dock for repairs, at the time that the Committee visited SimonsTown, and it had already concluded two successful surveys. He called for an explanation of how DAFF said this could be done, when Algoa had done the crucial surveys it needed to do in two weeks.

Mr van Dalen noted that the Department had said last year that it could not protect the perlemoen stocks and was losing the battle. As of today, nothing had changed. The Committee received no plan of action as to how DAFF intended to turn that around. This was a national disaster which the Department itself had created. It was not doing anything to protect South African fish stocks, and this, he predicted, would come back to haunt the Department. DAFF was way behind in the fishing quota allocation process and when the Committee had raised this concern at the start of 2012, DAFF had responded that the Committee was being alarmist as everything was on track. Now, the passage of time had proven the Department wrong, and the admissions that it made today left him feeling bitter. This disastrous inaction by the Department would have a catastrophic impact on the poor and jobless. He asked how the Department was going to fix that, although he believed that in fact it was already too late. Ms Apelgren-Narkedien had called him a liar and an alarmist, and he demanded an apology and retraction of that statement.

The Chairperson questioned if Mr van Dalen was suggesting that the Departmental official had called him a liar, and asked where this was done.

Mr van Dalen said it had happened when she, in a Committee meeting, had said that “a politician” had lied to the media and she was undoubtedly referring to him.

The Chairperson requested Mr Van Dalen to stick to the issues on the agenda, and not to make wide-ranging comments about friends of the President and Ministers.

Ms N Twala (ANC) raised a point of order. She noted that Mr van Dalen had said that a Minister had a hatred for “anything white”. Not only did she doubt the relevance of that statement, she also thought it racist.

Mr Van Dalen said he withdrew that statement.

The Chairperson asked Mr Van Dalen to be more cautious, noting that he appeared to be reading from a prepared statement.

Mr Van Dalen said he had written the statement.

The Chairperson said there was nothing wrong with that, but urged that all Members maintain civility at the meetings, otherwise the meeting would not get anywhere if it were to be bogged down in the necessity to withdraw negative comment. He noted that it was important to move forward. The DAFF had spelt out succinctly what challenges it was facing and the Members had to appreciate that this had been done, as distinct from the DAFF refusing to accede that it had challenges at all. The current delegation from the Department was admitting to the challenges.

Mr van Dalen said he had written that statement that morning to avoid the situation where he might forget exactly what issues he wanted to address. He agreed that it was only correct that the DAFF to admit that it had been wrong. For a whole year, in 2012, this Committee had been telling the DAFF what it was likely to face. DAFF kept responding this would not happen, because it was on track. Surely there should be some consequences for the fact that the DAFF had suddenly changed its stance. The comments and statements made by Ms Apelgren-Narkedien at the time were quite misleading. She had suggested that one survey would turn everything around, which was not the case. If the DAFF was able to use the data from the Norwegian ship all the time, then this begged the question why DAFF was paying money for its ship, to do its own surveys, instead of simply asking for free results from the Norwegian vessels. The DAFF had to get to the point, and the observer mission was one of the pillars on which the whole Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation rested.

Mr van Dalen continued that industry hired people to monitor itself, and it was necessary to look at some of the concerns around the possibility of a conflict of interest, and the status of the Department. The Department had said that this pillar of the strategy had been dealt with. The industry had gone out to withdraw its own ships, which could be making money somewhere else, and the Department would be paying a lot of money to keep its MSC Accreditation. Companies were paying a levy to the Department, of 40 cents for every kilogram of fish that had been caught. This money was supposed to be paid to a Fund which would then deal with patrols, observation and the surveys. However, the DAFF had done none of these. He asked what had happened to the levies, as the industry seemed not to have received value for money. He feared that the money may have been applied to meet the requirements of the MSC Accreditation.

Mr van Dalen also asked where the R800 million was that had been allocated to the servicing, manning and maintenance of the ships. This Committee would be failing in its duties if it did not rectify that. He urged other Members to ensure that the Committee intervened and demanded reports on this issue constantly. It was time that people in the Department should be held to account for the disaster that they had created. The Committee must come up with a report that made recommendations to that effect.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) asked for clarity on internal policy consultation for new entrants in the fishing industry.

Ms Pilusa Mosoane also asked how the Department was acting in regard to the beneficiation fronting, which was rife in the fishing industry.

She also asked what the way forward was, seeing that the SA Navy would no longer service the Department’s vessels. She also noted that R800 million was allocated to do that job.

Mr B Bhanga (COPE) noted that the issues were very serious and urged that this was not a case where anyone should attempt to blame another, or play defensive. Officials needed to take responsibility for their actions and communicate very clearly with the Committee. It was clear that DAFF was in a crisis situation. It must accept that, and start doing something about it. The officials at DAFF, and not the politicians, had put the Department in this situation, and they had to find ways to save it. However it was not helpful when people started to point fingers. These were, however, critical issues, and this was why he agreed that they must be raised. The Minister must also take responsible. He reminded the Committee that in the previous year he had raised questions that indicated that Cabinet and the President were not well informed on the crisis. The President seemingly had not understood what he had been referring to. The Minister should, in his view, explain the full extent of the crisis. Every vessel mentioned was problematic. Even a layman, like himself, who did not know much about the marine environment could understand the implications to the country if the vessels that collected data and that patrolled South African waters were in a crisis situation. He suggested that the DAFF must acknowledge this in a Press statement, and Cabinet must deal with the issue. If the DAFF continued to deny the existence of a problem, South African waters would continue to be exploited. The Department itself had admitted that South African waters were not uniformly patrolled. That was a crisis. The Minister needed to escalate the issue to Cabinet and the President. However, nothing was being done, and the nation was therefore suffering.

He asked to what extent the difficulties were affecting data collection. It was not true to say that there was no effect, as South Africa was reliant on someone else for  data collection. The operational chain was not doing its work. He reiterated that seemingly the President was not aware of this. The Minister was not guiding Cabinet on the issues. Much more substantial investment was needed. The Minister and Department had to take responsibility. South African waters were presently vulnerable to pirates and illegal poachers, who were well aware of the crisis the country was facing.

Ms A Steyn (DA) was disappointed with the presentation, particularly to the fact that this Committee was now placed in the situation where it had to act urgently to react to certain issues, such as the fact that not all targets would be met for this financial year. In the last year, the DAFF had assured the Committee that there was a recovery plan. Nothing new seemed to have happened since then. She asked that the Department should produce a proper presentation, setting out in detail which surveys had been missed, and the impact of that, as well as the plan to address it. It must also report what the problem was with the missing patrols, who was taking responsibility for that, and what would happen. Essentially, the Committee needed to get a full report that addressed every outstanding issue. It must be told how much money would be spent and where the money was coming from. There was some mention of approaching National Treasury, but this was not clear. The Portfolio Committee would shortly be dealing with the budget vote and had to know what was needed to turn around the situation. She agreed with comments from her colleagues that the Committee had, in 2012, raised the issue that the DAFF was heading for trouble, but only now was it admitted. She also agreed that the Minister must take responsibility and act.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said that he felt sorry that Ms Apelgren-Narkedien was put in the position when she was trying to deal with a problem not of her own making, and justify something, but she was at the helm, and had to take the responsibility. She must recognise, however, that one of the greatest threats to freedom was the absence of criticism. The moment that a person was appointed to a senior position in a state department, she would be answerable to the people of the country. In addition, she would be answerable to Parliament also, who had to exercise strong oversight over the actions of the Department.

He noted that the fisheries sector was worth about R6 billion per annum, meaning that it was a major player. It employed about 27 000 people, according to media reports. He said, as an aside, that he was very grateful that there was still a free press in South Africa, and this concept was sacrosanct, because without the media many matters happening “in the dark corners of many departments” would not be brought to light..

Mr Abram was concerned that in March 2012 the Department decided to seek the assistance of the Navy in order to assist with the patrolling, and to revamp the vessels to perform accordingly. There was a dual requirement, firstly to monitor South African waters, and secondly to conduct surveys. The Navy was unable to do that. This Committee must therefore determine why, rather than hearing who might have failed, or what happened. Defence was not within the DAFF’s portfolio, but the fact that it was using Navy vessels meant that these vessels might not be in a state or position to assist the country in a time of war. This was a vital point that had to be made. The Navy must be questioned as to why exactly it failed to carry out the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two Ministers, and what exactly had gone wrong as the Committee needed to get answers.  

Mr Abram agreed that it was a major problem that large parts of South African seas were not policed, and even while this Committee was meeting, there would be numerous abalone being poached.

Mr Abram asked what exactly DAFF was doing. He had heard many statements of intent during the twelve years that he had served on this Committee. Nothing substantial had come out of them, and only some plans had borne fruit. He suggested that the Department should draw up a “war plan” to address the obvious crisis; the most ignorant person could see that the fisheries division had fallen apart. He wanted the DAFF to indicate exactly which targets would not be met, or what percentages of a particular target, and what this impact would be on the broad society, being the people that made their living out of the fisheries sector. He either wanted the DAFF to respond to questions now, or put them in writing, but in either case he wanted precise answers how the DAFF was intending to alleviate the crisis.

The Chairperson agreed that the Department needed to get to the bottom of the crisis that was happening in the fishing sector. Transformation of the sector should be a priority. The Department should touch on its Charter for Fisheries, as at the moment it appeared to be merely continuing with “business as usual”. He said that the Department was effectively “speaking in tongues”. The cycle of applications was almost upon it. He did not want to hear generalities, but specifics like transformation in every species of the sector. The  transformation agenda should be at the centre of everything being done or discussed, and there should be no excuses of black people being disqualified because they did not have a boat. Sometimes people got papers and would sell them to the boat owners, against very unfavourable terms, and this kind of thing was taking the transformation agenda backwards. Fronting and fraud was rampant in the fishing industry, and everyone needed to work together on this transformation agenda.

Ms Apelgren-Narkedien responded that she could appreciate why Members were so concerned. The DAFF took full responsibility for the situation that the fishing sector was facing. However, she said that it was not in fact in crisis. The DAFF had taken back the vessels from the Navy and DAFF was back in control. The Memorandum of Understanding with the Navy would expire in March 2013, and DAFF had met with the management of the Navy, indicating that the vessels would be physically transferred at end of March. However, DAFF wanted to take back the two larger vessels,  Africana and Sara Baartman  immediately to get the necessary work done on them, as part of the “crisis plan”, and perhaps this point did not come across clearly. She noted that the Sara Baartman would be used as the deep sea patrol vessel, and the Africana as the research vessel at sea. DAFF would be meeting with the shipbuilders to check how fast the repair and refitting could be done. Fortunately, Sara Baartman did not require major repairs, but only minor ones, according to the last audited survey. The two vessels should be back at sea by end March. A survey was due at the same time. There were schedules of research covering the whole of 2013. There was a backup plan if the Africana was not back in action by end March, as DAFF would then charter a vessel.

She assured Members that there was a “crisis plan”. She said that the DAFF had indicated to the Committee that it was fully aware of the seriousness of the problems, and a plan had been made. Not all of the vessels that were scheduled for 2013 were at risk, and the DAFF apologised to the Committee for the risks relating to the previous year.

Ms Apelgren-Narkedien said all payments were made to the Navy, except the last R4.8 million, which was in dispute. The system of payment that the Navy required was different to that of DAFF. The problems had accumulated over the years because the system did not allow for advance payments, but only invoicing after use, and this had only become apparent later.

The Chairperson reiterated that the Department should come up with a clear report on the crisis, and state openly the transformation process in the fishing industry. It must set out, in writing, the “war plan” that it intended to chart in the fishing sector, with a full analysis of the crisis and challenges faced by the Department. In addition, all the questions now raised must be fully responded to, so that the Committee would be able to help with necessary interventions before the crisis escalated.

First Term Committee Programme
The Chairperson read through the draft programme. Members adopted this programme, subject to the correction that all Friday meetings should commence at 09:00 instead of 09:30.

The meeting was adjourned

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