The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department admitted to MPs yesterday that its marine patrol fleet, which conducts crucial research surveys to determine total allowable catches, had not been adequately run by the navy, to which the operation of the fleet had been outsourced last year.
Deputy director-general Greta Apelgren-Narkedien told journalists that the department was issuing two tenders, one for the management of research vessels and the other for the management of the fisheries patrol vessels, within about four months.
The navy has to hand back the ships by March 31 because “the navy does not have the capacity to meet… requirements in terms of crew and technical expertise”.
Earlier Apelgren-Narkedien told MPs serving on a parliamentary committee that she had been disturbed by media articles that alleged the department was in a crisis over the upcoming determinations of the fishing quotas.
She accused opposition MP Pieter van Dalen and Feike chief executive Shaheen Moolla, a fishing industry analyst, of feeding the media “lies”. She threatened to take the two – whom she referred to only by their designations – and members of the media to the Press Council.
ANC and opposition MPs, serving on the agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolio committee, said it was a matter of concern that the marine patrol fleet and the quota survey work of the department appeared to be in trouble.
ANC MP Salam Abram warned that “there is an old adage that the truth may be unpleasant but we should remember that it will always prevail”.
He took exception to the deputy director-general, who was appointed in December, lecturing MPs. “I want to caution… that one of the greatest threats to freedom is the absence of criticism. The moment you accept a position [as] a senior official in any state department you must remember that you are answerable to the people of the country.”
The department had approached the navy in March last year to assist with patrolling the marine resources, to “touch up the vessels so they could go out to sea”, and to conduct research. It now “unfortunately” appeared that the navy “was unable to do that”.
He was concerned that, because of the poor patrolling, “our waters are not being policed” and local marine resources were being plundered.
Van Dalen called on committee chair Mlungisi Johnson to call Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to appear before the committee, as she had insisted on taking the marine patrol and research functions away from the private sector.