South Africa’s Fisheries resources: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries status report, with Deputy Minister present

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

15 November 2016
Chairperson: Mr P Moloyi (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) briefed the Committee on the current status of the country’s marine resources, focusing on a sample of four species -- cape hake, pelagic fish, west coast rock lobster and abalone – and the three core areas of the Department’s involvement, which were science, compliance and resource management.

The DAFF said rock lobster and abalone fell into the category of species that were under severe pressure and in potential danger of depletion, while anchovy and red eye were categorised as species about which there was insufficient information regarding their overall population size to determine whether they could be exploited more. The fishing of all species had to take place according to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), upon which the total allowable catches (TACs) were based.

Abalone was under such pressure that the Department had closed recreational fishing in 2003 and commercial fishing in 2008. Commercial fishing had been provisionally reopened in 2010, but with strict controls. The primary reasons were the high incidence of illegal poaching, a lack of prioritisation by law enforcement, and environmental changes due primarily to the migration of west coast rock lobsters to various habitats where abalone breed.

Because the West Coast rock lobster was also currently under threat, the Department had reduced the TACs for rock lobsters to allow its population to recover, but this had created issues for local communities who depended on the fishing of that resource to sustain themselves. Unfortunately, this was the only reliable scientific method which the DAFF was able to rely on to allow that stock to recover.  

Members wanted to know when the West Coast rock lobster TACs were going to be announced, as the delay was having a negative effect on fishermen. When would the Department provide a full and comprehensive policy regarding experimental fisheries? They asserted that it appeared that abalone poaching was not being taken seriously by law enforcement authorities, with any convictions simply resulting in light sentences or small fines. This was in stark contrast to efforts to combat rhino poaching, which had far less of an economic impact on struggling communities. However, another Member suggested that corporate fishing fleets were mainly responsible for the depletion of marine resources, and that their quotas should be reduced in favour of local in-shore fishermen.

The Deputy Minister of the DAFF agreed that more serious measures needed to be taken to combat abalone poaching, and the Department was looking into that issue. He said there appeared to be a great deal of antipathy towards the horse mackerel experimental fisheries, which in his view was mainly due to anti-transformation sentiments, as this was the first time that the experimental licence had been awarded to a black company. The Committee should first see how the company performed, and then judge its performance on merit. 

Meeting report

Absence of Chairperson

The Committee secretary said that as the Chairperson, Ms M Semenya (ANC), was absent, an acting Chairperson would have to be nominated and voted on by the Committee before the meeting could commence.

Mr C Mathale (ANC) nominated Mr P Moloyi (ANC) for the position of acting Chairperson, which was seconded by Mr N Capa (ANC). Mr Moloyi was then confirmed as the acting Chairperson for the meeting.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) argued that it was unacceptable for the Chairperson to be absent yet again. He made a point that the affairs of the Committee could not continue in such a manner, as she was continuously absent. He recommended that if she continued to be habitually absent, a new permanent Chairperson should be appointed in her place.

The acting Chairperson said Ms Semenya was absent as she was currently in Morocco attending a Cop22 conference, and would return only on 19 November. The Minister of the Department was also not available as he had other government commitments, while the Director General was currently travelling abroad on official government business.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had been informed that the Department would provide a briefing on the current state of the country’s fishery resources, but the presentation would not engage with financial allocations, as meetings with the relevant stakeholders would take place on 26 November. The Department would be involved in that meeting and the views of all relevant stakeholders would be heard then.

South Africa’s marine resources

Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, Deputy Director General (DDG), Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) gave an overall summary of the current status of the country’s marine resources before the actual presentation began.

The information for the presentation had been derived from a sample of various species taken by the Department. These were cape hake, pelagic fish, abalone and west coast rock lobster. The presentation would not go into detail regarding every fishery and every species, as the DAFF had 22 commercial fisheries with over 25 different species in total, and to give a detailed presentation on all of them was not feasible. The current presentation was therefore just a sample of some of the key species which had been surveyed in order to give an overall picture of the current state of the fishery stocks.

Fisheries management focused primarily on three key areas: 

  • Science. Science was critical to fisheries management. as it provided verifiable evidence to enable the Department to take key decisions regarding issues such as the current population of various stocks. This allowed for further decisions to be made regarding how various stocks could then be exploited sustainably.
  • Compliance. A key objective of fisheries management was to provide increased access to those stocks in order to promote socio-economic development. However, it was also important to know which stocks were being fished, in what quantity, by whom and how that information was reported to the Department.
  • Resource management. This area was guided by the key principles of socio-economic development and ecological sustainability.  

Mr Justice Matshili, Chief Director, Fisheries Research and Development, introducing the main presentation, said the Department spent a large amount of time at sea each year gathering data regarding the current fish stocks, which was then compiled according to their own independent scientific models. The Department was limited as to the amount of data which they could gather, as the amount of information gathered was dependent on what financial resources they had.

The data used in the presentation dealt only with data that had been gathered up until 2015. The 2016 data had not yet been completed and therefore the report only dealt with data that reached up until 2014 to 2015.

The species which were dealt with in the presentation were those species which were most commercially valuable. The information gathered was measured against fish stocks globally in order to provide a comparative perspective as to their relative health or danger of depletion. This was divided into three different categories which dealt with the fishing pressure of each species.

The “red” category dealt with species which were under a high amount of fishing pressure which were in potential danger of depletion due to overfishing. Species which fell under this category were the abalone and the west coast rock lobster.

The “orange” category” dealt with species which were in moderate trouble. This meant that if more fishing pressure was placed on those resources, there was a high possibility that they could end up in the “red” danger category.

The “green” category dealt with species which had a healthy stock level and which were currently being sustainably utilised.

A fourth category was the “blue” category. This dealt with species such as the anchovy and red eye, which were at present under-utilised. However, not enough data had been gathered at present as to their overall population size. This meant that the Department could not state with certainty whether those species could be further exploited without a danger to their overall population size and sustainability occurring.  

An overall comparison of the previous two years showed that there had been minor changes in some categories and slightly significant changes in other categories.

The “unknown” category had shown no changes over the two year comparative period.

The “blue” category showed that there had been a slight increase from 2014-2016 from approximately 8% to 12%. The “green” category showed a slight increase, from approximately 35% in 2014 to around 33% in 2016. The “orange” category showed a decrease from approximately 26% to around 22%, a positive development which showed that a number of the resource containment strategies had begun to show positive results. The “red” category showed no change over the two periods of comparison.

One reason for the changes over the year was due to environmental factors and policies, which sometimes had the effect of affecting the stock in a negative way, as well as increased pressure on various resources. Recovery strategies for various fish stocks were also a factor which had resulted in stock variations. Recovery plans had been implemented and, as noted earlier, some of those strategies had begun to show positive results.

A second reason for the variances was due to improved reporting on the perception of the stock status, which arose due to improved assessments and data collection. In cases where a sufficient amount of information could not be gathered, it was difficult to speak with certainty regarding what the actual stock status actually was.

The presentation then dealt in more detail regarding the status of each different species.

Cape Hake

The data regarding cape hake showed that in the 2013 to 2015 years, there was downward trend for that species, especially for in-shore hake. The figures were, however, often evaluated according to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). All of the resources were managed according to what the MSY was for that specific species. The resources had been moving up and down around the MSY, but the current trend showed that currently the MSY had been moving downwards. Both the shallow water hake and the deep water hake were caught mainly by inshore and off shore trawlers, as well as long line and short line methods. The hake was a high value species for the economy. It contributed around R5 billion per annum, with around 5 000 to 6 000 people currently employed, in terms of that sector alone. This was one sector that had been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, a very positive development for this sector, as it enabled the maximisation of profitability. Total allowable catches (TACs) for the 2007-2009 period had been reduced substantially due to stock pressures and certain stocks which had shown signs of pressure. There had subsequently been positive signs of recovery, which had then resulted in an increase in TACs. Management had committed to keeping the current stocks at the MSY level. It was stressed that the research which they had conducted focused primarily on the MSY, and not the Maximum Economic Yield (MEY). Whilst the MEY should be considered, that would require further economic research before that indicator could be used in further conducted research.

Pelagic Species

The next species was the pelagic species, which dealt with anchovies, sardines and the red eye. The November 2015 survey showed that the total biomass of anchovies was at approximately 1.9 million tonnes, a figure that was slightly below the intended long term average of 2.8 million tonnes. Those results did indicate that the overall health of that resource was presently healthy and sustainable

Sardines had a total biomass of 363 000 tonnes, which was well below the long term average of 968 700 tonnes, and was due primarily to five successive years of poor recruitment. The figures did indicate that sardines recruitment had shown a decline over the past three years, and that stock was declining overall.

Red eye had a total biomass of 1.3 million tonnes, which was above the long term average of 967 200 tonnes. There had also been a slight improvement compared to previous years regarding recruitment and a survey was currently being conducted to provide a further point of comparison to determine whether there had been an overall improvement or decline with regards to the various species.

The presentation then dealt with the difference between the annual TACs and the actual catches of the three different species falling under the pelagic fish category. Anchovy TACs showed that this species was under-caught in the 2015 year. Industry had claimed that the main reason for the under-catching was due to changes in anchovy behaviour, a factor which reduced catchability, as well as new air pollution legislation which constrained the ability of the industry to process that species. Sardine TACs were fully caught in the 2015 year. Redeye herring showed a substantial under-catch, which was due primarily to a decrease in fish availability, as well as a market preferences for anchovy.

Abalone

Abalone resources were under a great deal of pressure and showed a significant reduction in total stocks over the previous few years, to the extent that the Department had to close the recreational fishery in 2003 and the commercial fishery in 2008. The commercial fishery had, however, been conditionally re-opened in 2010. Strict measures were currently being put in place in order to allow those stocks to recover properly and curb illegal fishing, which was the main cause of those depleted stocks. It was stressed, however, that overall abalone was still in a very dangerous position, given the currently low stocks.

In Zone A to Zone B (Gansabaai to Buffeljags) abalone resources had continued to decline and projections did indicate that if the current rate of harvesting continued the resource would continue to decline. A primary contributing factor to both the current low stocks and the continuing decline, was illegal fishing and if this was not properly urgently brought under control further drastic reductions were envisaged in the future. However, projections had indicated that if illegal fishing of abalone was properly curbed then recovery was possible of the resource.

In Zone C to D (Hangklip to Hermanus) abalone resources had continued to decline, also primarily due to illegal fishing and poaching. A further factor in the decline in those zones was the incursion of rock lobsters during the 1990s, which had caused an ecosystem shift resulting in a reduction in the recruitment of young abalone, as well as compromising the ability of abalone to recover properly in those zones. Zero TACs had been implemented in those zones in order to allow the resource to further recover before any TACs would be opened in the future.

In Zone E, F & G (West Coast), current resource indicators suggested that there was no reason to change the current TACs in those zones. Estimates had shown the possible stabilisation of poaching in those areas over the last two years. While it was not entirely clear why poaching had declined in those zones, the Department believed that this primarily due to their anti-poaching and illegal fishing measures which had been put in place. Those zones did, however, show a low rate of natural productivity and reproduction, a factor which compromised the ability of abalone stocks to recover naturally in those zones. It was noted that as abalone were sedentary in nature, their reproduction ability was far lower than other species.

Rock Lobster

The west coast rock lobster fishery generated approximately R260 million per annum and employed 4 200 people. Previously this fishery had been focused mainly on the West Coast, but resource shifts which had occurred during the 1990s had resulted in three additional areas opening up east of Cape Hangklip. This fishery consisted of three sectors: offshore commercial fishing which used traps, inshore commercial fishing which used hoop-nets, and recreational fishing. The decrease in the number of catches since the 1950s to 1960s were due to several causes which included, but were not limited to, changes in fishing methods, stricter controls, declines in resource abundance, reduced growth rates and various environmental changes. The reduced growth rates were primarily due to the catching of large reproductive fish, which then affected the rate at which the resource could repopulate itself.

The west coast rock lobster was currently at severely depleted levels and was presently in the “red” zone regarding its total population. Estimates also currently placed current resources at 2.5% of pre-fished levels. A recovery plan had been implemented which aimed to recover this resource to around 35% by 2021, which was 4.8% of pre-fished levels. The Department was currently in a very difficult position on this issue, as they had to consider both the needs of local communities who benefited and were dependent on the fishing of this resource, whilst at the same ensuring that the resources’ population remained at a sustainable level in order to preserve that resource. At present the only scientific method which they were aware of that could replenish the resource was to reduce the TACs, which at the same time made it difficult to meet the needs of local communities who were dependent on fishing that resource for their livelihood. The TACs had been set at 1 924.5 tonnes for the 2015/16 season in order to meet the targets set by the recovery plan. It was noted that the reduction in TACs would have a negative impact on the fishing community and industry, due to the reduction in the amount of the west coast rock lobsters that could be legitimately caught, a resource upon which they were reliant.

The concluding remarks had both negative and positive highlights.

Negative highlights indicated that many of the country’s key marine fishery resources had been over-fished in the past, and in particular many of the near-shore resources were currently facing extreme pressure. It was noted that fishing pressure was not due to local community fishing, but that many of the current pressures had existed for a number of years -- even during the apartheid period, when many of those communities were prohibited from even catching those resources. The resources were, however, very impoverished and the current fishing pressures had resulted in catches being far less than they potentially could be.

Positive highlights showed that while fish stocks were under severe pressure, they were not inevitably doomed to dwindle down to nothing. If positive and efficient interventions were put in place by the Department, the resources would have a very high possibility of recovery. From past experience regarding deep water hake, it had been shown that recovery plans can, and do, have positive results. If such measures were put in place numerous benefits would follow, such as greater productivity of fish stocks, which would in turn lead to substantially larger catches of certain resources as well as numerous positive gains in contributing to food security and reducing coastal poverty. It was stressed that the Department did have the ability to achieve those goals, but numerous obstacles were currently being faced, most significantly a lack of financial resources for additional research. However, the best research that could be undertaken at present was being conducted.

Discussion

Mr Bheki Cele, Deputy Minister, DAFF, said that further statistical information regarding the negative highlights had not been given in the presentation, and requested that it be included in future as it would provide further information for junior officials to take more informed decisions regarding the impact of their decisions on nearby coastal communities.

Mr S Mncwabe (NFP) had concerns regarding the figures presented. On the one hand, the figures often stated that the Department could not make full predictions due to a lack of information but on the other hand, recommendations had been made regarding information which they claimed they did have. In what manner was the Committee supposed to balance those contrasting sets of information, and to what extent could the information that had been presented by properly relied upon?

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) commented that recovery plans had been implemented but no real mention had been made of the details of those plans. There was also a suggestion that the allocation for certain resources be reduced by around 50% in terms of that recovery plan. He agreed with the comments of Mr Cele, that it was not subsistence and small scale fisherman who were responsible for the low levels of stocks. He was also sceptical regarding the impact that poaching had had on the reduction in stocks as the biggest impact, in his view, was from the large multi-national fishing companies who bore the primary responsibility for the low resource levels. When the Committee engaged in its allocation, should it reduce the allocation to large fishing businesses, or should their allocations be maintained at current levels, with subsistence and small scale fisherman having their allocations reduced? It was unacceptable that those large scale businesses should be allowed to continue to deplete the country’s resources without any change in the future. It was primarily small scale and subsistence fisherman who suffered the most due to the greed of those large scale companies.

Mr W Maphanga (ANC) said the presentation indicated to him that the Department was taking its role regarding the country’s fish stocks very seriously. He asked what impact the closure of the recreational and commercial fisheries had had on abalone stocks. What measures had been put in place by the Department to curb illegal abalone harvesting? What factors had contributed to the decline in near shore resources, and what measures had been put in place to deal with that decline?

Ms Z Jongbloed (DA) said the presentation painted a bleak picture regarding the west coast rock lobster population, and she wanted to know when the west coast rock lobster TACs were going to be announced. Registrations had been opened on 1 November, but the delay was having a negative effect on industry operations. Would the TAC numbers be reduced again following the announcement? When would the Department provide a full and comprehensive policy on experimental fisheries?

She raised an issue regarding horse mackerel, but stressed that whenever she raised that issue, allegations were often levelled against her that she was anti-transformation, but that was definitely not the case, which she wanted to place on the record. Her only concern regarding that issue was that proper due process had been followed. It seemed to her that the views of the South African marine scientists regarding horse mackerel and experimental fishing were that it should be integrated, or mixed with the example that was being followed in Namibia, in order for the Department to achieve its objectives. The catch rates for the horse mackerel industry had not improved during the 2015 season as that industry was able to catch only 19.5% of the TACs allocated.

She also wanted to know when the Department intended to announce or confirm the recommendations of the scientific department’s working group in respect of TACs being declared for commercial fishery sectors in 2017, in particular the TACs relating to west coast rock lobster. She raised a concern that abalone poaching was not being taking seriously in the courts, and convictions simply resulted in light sentences of community service. This was different to the situation regarding rhino poaching, which attracted far harsher penalties. Why was the one issue being taken seriously, but abalone poaching not as seriously? Unlike the rhino, abalone resources were a viable commercial resource that could benefit communities at a local level, which was not necessarily always the case with rhino resources. The Department had indicated that it had intended to introduce sanctions for abalone poaching in terms of the Marine Resources Act, and she wanted to know how far that process was currently. The Department had highlighted a number of very serious concerns regarding resource stocks, and there was a great deal of expectation regarding the small scale fisheries plan. How would the Department fulfil the expectations of that programme successfully, given the severely depleted resources being faced at the present?

Mr H Kruger (DA) had question relating specifically to abalone in the Klein Brak River area. He had personally viewed that area over many years, and it was abundant with abalone. The person who was currently depleting those abalone stocks apparently had a permit to engage in that harvesting, which he had also apparently obtained through his father. He requested that the Department engage in an investigation into the authenticity of the permit, or even whether that harvester even had a permit at all. He said that the stocks had been severely depleted, and that it was imperative that the Department engage in further investigation in order to deal with that issue.

Department’s response

Mr Cele responded to some of the questions which had been asked by the Committee.

Regarding the reliability of information, he said that a larger budget would aid the Department in conducting more research. This would then provide it with more information to implement its policies and achieve its objectives. This was an issue which had been raised by Mr Matshili in his presentation -- that the budget cuts had hampered its ability to maximise its capabilities in terms of conducting research and collecting information. Collaboration with other institutions, such as universities, would aid the Department in collecting more information. However, it could collect only as much information as the budget allowed it to do.

Regarding the overall impact of poaching, he said that the resource which was most severely affected by poaching and illegal fishing was abalone. The illegal abalone poaching did not focus on providing that resource to South Africans domestically, but rather it was illegally exported overseas where it was then sold. While the Department did not have the exact figures relating to abalone poaching, it was commonly accepted that this was an area that funded much international and domestic crime syndicates. He said that a few months ago, Interpol had intercepted a large shipment of abalone to an unnamed south-east Asian country, which was evidence that the illegal abalone industry was not necessarily based within South Africa, but rather overseas. In terms of the Constitution, it was the South African Police Service (SAPS) and not the DAFF which bore the responsibility to fight crime. However, in terms of abalone poaching, it was the Department which suffered the most negative effects when that poaching occurred and those responsible were not arrested and prosecuted. It would be beneficial for the Department to strengthen its ties with law enforcement agencies in order to more effectively combat illegal abalone poaching and fishing. The SAPS did not appear to prioritise abalone poaching offences, but rather other crimes such as cash in transit heists. This approach was mistaken to a degree, as abalone poaching was a billion dollar business which funded other criminal activities. He agreed with the comment that those convicted of abalone poaching were not subject to severe enough punishment in the courts, and this was an issue which should be examined further.

Regarding experimental fisheries, he said that there was a large amount of negativity regarding the experimental fisheries, and he believed that there were people who were anti-transformation on that point. This was the first time that an experimental fishing licence for horse mackerel had been granted to a black person, which was when the allegations of a lack of due process had been raised. However, when the licences had previously been offered to white-owned companies, no such allegations had ever been raised. He stressed that any issues regarding the process under which the licence had been given should be based on the actual technical performance of the company, and not on the race of the company or person who had been awarded those contracts.

Ms Ramasadi then responded to other questions which the Committee had asked.

She said the lack of information was a serious issue that would need to be addressed. It was a very practical issue which would affect what decisions could be made regarding when resources could be harvested and to what extent. The practical challenge was that the Department could not be expected to count every resource individually, but rather had to collect samples and then reach an estimate based on those samples, which were plotted according to mathematical models. If the estimates showed that a certain amount of fish could be caught, the Department set their TACs slightly lower than the actual amount that could be caught in order to ensure that any possible variances in their estimates would not then result in the resource being completely depleted. She stressed that the estimates were not 100% reliable, but they did provide a measure of leeway and could predict with relative certainty as to how much of a certain stock was present in the ocean.

She said the recovery plans consisted of a number of different aspects. For example, where the fish stock was in danger of depletion, a number of plans would be implemented, such as reducing the TACs for those resources in order to allow that stock to reproduce and recover. Different plans would also be implemented based on the different resources, as fish as such as abalone could take up to eight years to mature, while other fish such as hake could take up to 15 years to reach full size. During the reproduction season, certain measures would be put in place to ensure that they could reproduce and thus repopulate through measures such as closing areas where those fish were spawning, which would be designated as marine protected areas. Those areas would be designated for only a limited period of time, such as during the reproduction season, and once they had reproduced those restrictions would be lifted. Other issues which affected population size were fish mortality relating to issues such as pollution, and the Department would then put measures in place to reduce the amount of mortalities that resulted from pollution.

Poaching was a serious challenge in this regard, particularly for species such as abalone which were immobile. A further issue with poaching was that those involved often destroyed other parts of the environment in order to remove the abalone quickly before they could be caught. This had the further knock-on effect of negatively affecting the reproduction of other fish species and the environment in general. The closure of the abalone fishery in 2008 was intended to reduce poaching, but when the Department’s scientists had gone to a conference in Hong Kong that same year, they had discovered a high quantity of abalone which had been illegally poached from South Africa and exported overseas. This had indicated that measures adopted in terms of the closing the fishery, had not had the intended impact of curbing poaching. There was evidence, however, that the closure had resulted in a degree of ecological improvement, as poachers had then moved to other areas which were not so heavily protected. She agreed with the comments of Ms Jongbloed and Mr Cele, that abalone poaching was not being taken as seriously by law enforcement as it should be, and that the sentences which resulted from successful convictions were often not serious enough to deter other poachers from continuing their illegal activities.

She said that discussions had begun with Fish SA to ensure that there was a closer relationship between the Department and local communities to address illegal poaching and to ensure community upliftment through the use of those resources. Discussions had also begun with large fishing companies with the aim of stopping them from conducting as much fishing in the near shore areas, which would be reserved primarily for the use of local fishing communities. It was unjustifiable that large companies could have a virtual monopoly over both near shore and offshore resources. Those measures would also have the additional benefit of allowing resources to recover more sustainably, as they would not be placed under as much pressure by large scale fishing operations.

In terms of the issue regarding horse mackerel, which had a low catch rate, the DDG was unsure whether those low catch rate figures were entirely correct. Currently, a vessel known as the Desert Diamond was the pre-dominant vessel with the authority to fish for horse mackerel, but it was also subject to a horse mackerel quota in Namibia. This meant that even if the catch rates for horse mackerel were reflected as being low, that did not mean that there was a scarcity of that resource in South African waters. A potential explanation for the low catch rate could therefore be that the Desert Diamond wanted first to catch all of the available Namibian fish in terms of their quota, which may be preferable to the South African quota, before beginning to fish in South African waters.

Mr Matshili then answered the remaining questions asked by the Committee.

The first question which he answered dealt with when the annual TACs would be finalised and announced. The TACs had been signed off and the Department was currently in the process of finalising them, which meant that they would be released shortly.

The Chairperson requested further clarity, as “very shortly” was too vague. He wanted to know if the Department could provide a specific date or timeframe as to when the TACs would be released.  

Mr Matshili replied that the TACs should be announced that day, being 15 November 2016. However, that announcement had to be gazetted in order to allow fisherman to actually engage in fishing.

Regarding the possible reduction of TACs in order to improve the population of various species, at present the only effective scientific means to repopulate resources was to reduce the fishing of those species through the reduction of TACs. At the moment calculations were currently underway at the Department in order to implement a long-term solution to that issue. The Department was aware that a sudden reduction in TACs could have potentially negative consequences, but various short-term plans were also being explored to address that issue in addition to reductions, and not implementing a sudden large cut in available TACs. As noted by the DDG, other measures were being implemented or explored to address resource depletion, such as reserving in-shore areas for local fisherman and requiring large scale fishing businesses to focus their fishing activities off shore. This would also hopefully achieve the intended aim of replenishing fish stocks, in addition to TAC cuts.

The DDG then responded to the issue of abalone harvesting in the Klein Brak River area. She said the fisherman concerned had a legal right to harvest abalone due to his possession of a valid fishing permit. However, the fisherman still had to operate within the legal limits imposed by the permit, and if the case was that the fisherman was exceeding those limits then action would be taken.

She responded to the issue raised by Mr Capa, that the presentation had a lack of Departmental recommendations, and that it would be beneficial if future presentations had such recommendations. She said that, as mentioned by the Deputy Minister, the Department was currently spending R180 million per annum on research and compliance vessels. It had a fleet of six vessels, two of which were for research and four of which were for compliance. However, there were currently severe constraints on the fiscus of the country, and it would not appropriate to simply request more and more funding despite the fact that good work was currently been done by the Department in that regard, despite the clear financial constraints.

In this regard, the Department faced two possible options. The first option was that which had been proposed by the DAFF Minister after having a discussion with his Namibian counter-part last week. As the Namibian, South African and Angolan coasts were adjacent to the Benguela ocean current, all of their Ministers had begun to discuss creating a joint research enterprise between the different countries to pool their efforts to resolve their collective problems. Often, many of the species were shared between the different countries, and a possible consideration was that a single research crew would then take a South African research vessel to the border of Namibia and then change on to a Namibian research vessel, which would then conduct further research in Angola and South Africa. This was an initiative which it was envisaged would cut operational costs by at least 50%.

The second option related to the fact that information gathered by the Department’s research was made available for free. Various universities often requested that information to conduct their own research, with the Department selling that information for as little as R65, which was the case with research which had recently been requested by the University of Cape Town (UCT). It was not entirely reasonable for the Department to incur such large expenses in gathering that data, which was then provided to other research organisations and universities for little to no cost. A possible model could be developed which would determine on a sliding scale how much such information, when requested, would cost. This would then aid the Department in recouping some of their costs in conducting research.

The Chairperson asked if the in-shore resources had been reserved to accommodate small scale fishing communities, and if so, could the Department provide more specific details regarding that reservation. Was he correct in concluding that the information provided had dealt only with the 2014/2015 year, and did not include the 2016 year? If that was the case, could further information be provided regarding the current situation regarding the 2016 data? He referred to abalone poaching and the information that had been presented by Mr Cele and the DGG. Previously they had informed the Committee that Operation Phakisa involved collaboration between the Department and SAPS with the intended aim of reducing abalone poaching by up to 50%. If the comments made by the Committee, the DGG and Mr Cele were true -- that SAPS was not necessarily taking the issue of abalone poaching as seriously as other crimes such as rhino poaching -- then it would be very difficult for the Department to achieve that target. He said that the issue of abalone poaching could be far more effectively combated if a sea-based law enforcement agency was created to combat that problem. He recommended that the DAFF engage with law enforcement to potentially create such an agency and once engagements had begun, the Department should report back to the Committee on any progress made. While financial constraints were an issue, they were a reality that had to be dealt with, and more work would simply have to be achieved with less funding. He also asked whether the Department had any reliable information regarding horse mackerel, in relation to the concerns raised by Ms Jongbloed, and if not, the Committee should be informed of that fact. He also commented that the presentation had not dealt at all with sole -- were regular surveys conducted on the sole resource, and if so, could that information be shared with the Committee?

Ms Jongbloed asked how many of the 25 species currently in 22 near-shore fisheries had been reserved for small scale fisheries. She had received a communication from the Eastern Cape Divers and Fishermen’s Forum. The Committee had visited the Eastern Cape last year when exercising their oversight function, and the Forum had raised a number of issues regarding corruption in the allocation of experimental fishing operations and their treatment by the local office. That communication had subsequently been followed up by a meeting with the Minister and the DGG. The Department had then issued a statement on 15 April 2016, where they undertook to implement various interventions such as training, which would enable meaningful participation in fisheries. The Department had, however, failed to follow up on the implementation of those interventions, which had resulted in members of the Forum engaging in a hunger strike on 7 November 2016. Was the Department aware of that hunger strike? What were they doing to deal with that issue? Since the hunger strike had begun, had they done anything to resolve the fishermen’s grievances?

The Chairperson had an additional question in relation to the Eastern Cape. The abalone experimental fishing operation in the Eastern Cape was supposed to have been completed in 2015. Had the programme been completed and if not, what was its current status?

A delegate from the Department said that in terms of Operation Phakisa, there was co-operation between the Department and law enforcement. The Department had reallocated various vessels to engage in additional compliance inspections and enforcement. A few months ago, the Department had had only one vessel performing compliance, but they had reallocated vessels and now had seven vessels patrolling for compliance. The additional vessels would aid in combating poaching, as they would be able to cover a larger area, in particular to ensure compliance in areas where they could not always patrol effectively. He agreed with the recommendation that engagement should be entered into with SAPS in terms of Operation Phakisa to strengthen their cooperation and ensure that poaching was successfully combated. It would, however, also be a good idea to increase capacity within the Department itself, which would also aid in resolving the issue.

The delegate said that Ms Jongbloed’s question about the Eastern Cape Divers and Fishermen’s Forum had also involved the Black Fishers’ Forum. He had had around three to four meetings on that exact matter after the initial meeting with the Minister in April 2016. The Forum was a breakaway group which had been established for the purpose of advancing the interests of black fisherman in the area, which was largely dominated by coloured fishermen. The original group, dominated by coloured fishermen, had already approached the Minister. The Department had agreed that an imibizo should be held to resolve the matter. The central issue was that fisherman would go to sea for long periods of time, sometimes up to 21 days, and then return with no catches due to the domination of one group. Engagements had begun with the Departments of Labour and Public Works, as there was a huge legislative gap regarding who bore responsibility for specific issues, which then created various problems at the ground level. Originally, the imibizo had been set for October 2016, but in consultation with the Labour Department, it had been decided to postpone it to a later date as fishermen were usually out at sea during that period. Through engagements with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and various other government Departments, the issue was being attended to, addressing both the underlying issues and the racial conflict

Ms Jongbloed said that her question had not been adequately answered. Her question had been whether the Department was aware of the hunger strike, and if so, what measures they had put in place to deal with the concerns of those engaged in the hunger strike.

The Acting Chairperson requested the DGG to respond to all of the questions and if her answer was still not satisfactory that Ms Jongbloed repeat any points of clarity in a follow up question.

The DGG stated that she had received a whatsapp message, which said that the hunger strikers had been on strike for six days and were prepared to pay with their lives in order to receive their fishing permits. The DGG had responded by informing the person who sent the message that the Department was currently in the process of finalising the West Coast rock lobster permits, and if the message referred to another permit, the person who sent the message should please provide further clarity, as well their identity and where they were located. The messenger had then responded that they knew that the west rock lobster permits were being finalised. However, the message had gone on to state that the Port Elizabeth DAFF was operating in a corrupt manner with SAPS and a person named Richard Clarke, which was the reason for their strike. The DGG had then responded that she was not entirely clear what the message referred to, but requested that any information be provided. The messenger responded that they did have that information, which would be released at a press conference. While the she was not entirely sure that the person who sent the messages belonged to the group mentioned by Ms Jongbloed, she believed that the messenger was. The Department was looking into the issue, and would take further steps once that additional information had come to light.

Regarding the reservation of in-shore resources, the Department was not able to simply reserve certain species just for commercial use and other species just for local community use on a year by year basis. Fishing rights had been allocated in 2013, and were valid for a period of eight years. The Department had, however, resolved that whenever fishing rights were allocated in the future a certain percentage would always be reserved for local communities. At the moment, fishing rights were allocated in ten different sectors. Of those ten sectors, small scale local community fishing was not impacted in terms of the overall sum of various sectors. Tuna, for example, required capital intensive investments which local communities could not afford, and therefore local communities were not necessarily affected by tuna rights bring allocated to large companies who had the resources to make those investments. Hake was another sector which did not necessarily affect local communities for the same reason as tuna, as hake required capital intensive investments, and fishing of hake takes place off shore. There was therefore no real interest at a local community level to establish cooperatives to exploit that resource. The local communities in KZN had a greater interest in fish farming, however, and the allocation of rights to local communities had been published on the DAFF website, which made provision for local community fishing rights reservations.

The fifth sector was seaweed, and there were currently 23 sites which could be harvested. Of those 23 sites, 15 had been reserved for small scale local community fishing programmes and cooperatives. One of those sites was located in Blouberg, but issues had arisen as the City of Cape Town did not allow the Department to harvest the seaweed there. The City instead employed a service provider who collected the seaweed and destroyed it, so while those rights had been granted, there were issues relating to actually accessing the resource, especially in the Cape Town area.

The sixth sector dealt with horse mackerel, but as with tuna and hake, there was no real interest in reserving rights for small scale local communities due to the capital intensive investments that had to be made in this sector, as this resource could only be viably harvested off shore.

The next sector was the west coast rock lobster, which had more of an impact on local communities. At the moment there was an exemption under the provisions relating to the harvesting and as stated by Mr Matshili, those TACs would be announced later in the day. The main reason why the reservations for rock lobsters in the Western Cape had not been issued, however, was that the verification for those fishermen had not yet been completed in the province. However, in the 2017/18 year, that process would have been completed and big companies would have fewer rights to harvest rock lobster, which would then go towards local communities. A minimum of 60% of the TACs would go to the small scale fishing industry. In terms of abalone, another TAC would be set aside for small scale fishing activities.

In terms of the question about sole raised by the Chairperson, discussions had taken place in the Department to determine the viability of establishing sole as a self-standing fishery. The primary challenge in this regard was that sole was often caught in addition to other fish. At present there was no specified fishery, net or technology that could target sole specifically due to the fact that sole existed in association with other fish, and was only practically caught in addition to other fish. This did not mean, however, that focused experiments could not be done in the future to create specific nets or technology that could catch sole exclusively. At present two applications from members of the public had been made to the Department to develop such technology, and the Department was of the view that sole could potentially become a fully-fledged independent fishery in the country. This was dependent however, on the decision of the Minister, as the applicable legislation allowed only the Minister to grant permission for experiments, such as the proposed experiments for sole fishing.

At present the Department, did not have information on horse mackerel for two reasons. The first was that the Department did not do stock assessments on horse mackerel. They currently had two research vessels, with the one engaged primarily with research into the pelagic fish species, and the other fully engaged with research into bottom-dwelling fish species. Horse mackerel was caught with a horse trawler vessel, which the Department did not currently possess. However, this was the reason why the experiments regarding horse mackerel had been allowed, so that independent researchers could potentially gather that information and provide it to the Department.

The second reason was that since 2005 to the present, only the Desert Diamond vessel had been granted permission to harvest horse mackerel in South African waters. This had the effect that other people who wanted to harvest that resource had had to use that vessel to harvest that resource, which had presented efficiency problems. However, this had subsequently been changed to allow numerous vessels to harvest, and rights would no longer be given exclusively to a single vessel. Joint surveys would be done with Namibia, which would be allowed to enter South African waters, and which would then provide additional information regarding horse mackerel harvesting.

Mr Matshili dealt with the question relating to experiments regarding abalone in the Eastern Cape.

The experiments in the Eastern Cape towards the end of 2015 had unfortunately become marred by various participants engaging in illegal harvesting, which had then distorted the data which they had collected. At the moment, an investigation was being conducted into this matter and researchers had begun to engage with communities to develop further experiments in the future. On the whole, however, it was unlikely that the experiments conducted thus far could be relied on as conclusive scientific experiments due to the distortion of the figures due to the illegal harvesting of the abalone by some of the participants in the programme. Once those meetings had been concluded, a way forward could be determined, but it was likely that due to the contamination of the information, the experiment may have to be conducted again.

Mr Kruger had one final comment. He felt that the Department should be treating the issues around small scale fisheries more urgently.

Committee business

The Chairperson said that the Members had received an invitation from the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs to join their consultative meeting regarding the Extension of Security of Tenure Bill. That meeting would take place later that day, and the following day. He requested that any Members who were available to attend the meeting either that day or the following day to please make themselves available to attend.

The nominations for the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) had been extended by the Minister to the end of November 2016, and would be dealt with the following week. Members had been requested to nominate suitable persons to submit their CVs, and therefore there was still some time to submit those documents. Parliament had written to the Committee informing it that this matter had been outstanding for quite some time, and therefore it needed to be disposed of as quickly as possible.

The meeting was adjourned.

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