Green Party taking Minister of Environmental Affairs to court over rock lobster quotas...South African fishermen offload their catch of Rock Lobster on the dock of Cape Town\'s Kalk Bay harbour . REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Donwald Pressly

Judith Sole, the leader of the Green Party of South Africa, is taking Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to court tomorrow in a bid to stop all West Coast lobster fishing at once and place a moratorium on fishing for a period while the stocks recover.

She believes that if she fails to stop all exploitation immediately, the resource could be fished out very soon. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has imposed the same quota for rock lobster as last year – about 2 425 tons.

Sole believes that the resource is far too low to allow exploitation. On average stocks are about 3.1 percent of pristine levels, but it should be at a level of 20 percent before fishing is allowed. “We should have stopped fishing years ago,” Sole said.

While it is not clear whether Joemat-Petersson and her fisheries deputy director-general Greta Apelgren-Narkedien will oppose the action, it is understood that they will.

Ministry spokeswoman Palesa Mokomela was not available, but Sole said the government’s reasons for opposing the application were supposed to have been presented to her last Friday.

Sole said she would be fighting the case in the Western Cape High Court herself.

While marine lawyer Shaheen Moolla, the chief executive of marine research firm Feike, had offered to assist her, they had not been able to come to an agreement.

Moolla said Sole was seeking to review and set aside the minister’s decisions to allow “any form” of lobster fishing, or alternatively was seeking to force the minister to stop the commercial lobster trap fisheries – the offshore fishing.

He believed that, although Sole’s intentions were honourable, she would have little success in achieving her aims.

This was because i

n terms of the basic rules of court, if a party was seeking “in any way to impugn the interests of any party you are obliged to serve the papers on all the interested parties”, Moolla said.

There are some 1 240 quota rights holders.

“She must serve each and every one of them,” he said.

While Sole said she had served notice on all the fishing associations, Moolla said this was not good enough because the rules of court were clear that notices must be served on all the rights holders at their addresses.

While acknowledging that the costs of such a procedure were likely to be over R300 000 – at about R250 to post details of the court application to each fishing party – the court had set a precedent in previous abalone cases before court, Moolla said.

Sole would need, however, to seek a court order allowing her to advertise in local newspapers along the Western Cape coastline “where those rights holders are domiciled. She hasn’t done that.”

Sole, however, believed that approaching the fishing associations was sufficient. They included Fish SA, the umbrella body for South Africa’s fishing industry, the Artisanal Fishers Association of SA, and the Masifundise Development Trust, which represents small-scale and subsistence fishers.

Pressed on whether she believed compromises could be made on rock lobster fishing, such as reducing the quota, she said that there were not.

Sole realised that artisanal fishermen would be negatively affected if she were successful in stopping lobster fishing, which is why she was seeking that the state provide them with a restitution package to support them during the period when fishing was suspended.

Suleiman Salie, the managing director of Oceana Lobster, which is a member of the West Coast Lobster Association, said the order sought by Sole “cannot be carried into effect without prejudicially affecting the rights of Oceana Lobster”.

Oceana Lobster holds rights to undertake commercial fishing for West Coast rock lobster in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act.

“Oceana Lobster is dependent on the continuation of its lawful fishing activities pursuant to the right granted to it for the continued operations of its business and, accordingly, has a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the application.”

While Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director of communication for fisheries Lionel Adendorf was not available for comment yesterday, he has previously pointed out that Joemat-Pettersson had not interfered in the rock lobster total allowable catch. This was determined by the relevant official.

However, “any affected person” could appeal to the minister against a decision taken by any person – such as determining the total allowable catch – in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act.