South African fishermen offload their catch of Rock Lobster on the dock of Cape Town\'s Kalk Bay harbour, September 17, 2003. Overfishing and widespead poaching have led authorities to apply strict quota\'s on most of South African fishing resources, including the \"red gold\" that has traditionally provided an income for many of the poor fishing communities along the country\'s west coast. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings---PICTURE TAKEN SEPTEMBER 17, 2003

Donwald Pressly

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has approved the global total allowable catch (TAC) for West Coast rock lobster of 2 425 tons for the 2012/13 fishing season, but industry commentators say that the level is too high and will place pressure on already depleted seafood stocks.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has been accused of meddling in the determination, which her office has denied.

Lionel Adendorf, the fisheries spokesman, said acting deputy director-general Ceba Mtoba made the determination, having been delegated the responsibility in terms of section 14 of the Marine Living Resources Act.

Adendorf was emphatic that independent fisheries analyst Shaheen Moolla was wrong to suggest that the minister had meddled in the process.

“The [department] can confidently state that while the acting deputy director-general has informed the minister as the executive authority of the decision, she did not influence the decision, interfere with the process, nor did she put pressure on or instruct any official to keep the TAC the same.”

Moolla, a former adviser to the Environmental Affairs Department, which once included fisheries, said his company, Feike, learnt that the minister directly interfered in the lobster TAC by acting against the critical West Coast rock lobster recovery plan.

“Although much-vaunted in Parliament as part of the department of fisheries ‘successes’ the implementation of the… rock lobster recovery plan and the lobster operational management procedure (OMP) has essentially been tossed out of the window” by the minister, Moolla said.

“Feike has been informed that the minister’s commitment to the wanton destruction of our fisheries sector continues with apparent gusto.”

He said last week “and subsequent to months of consultations and discussion between the department’s scientists and managers and the West Coast rock lobster industry association (representing commercial and artisanal fishers), the recreational fishing sector and the interim relief sector. It was agreed that a 9.6 percent cut in the lobster TAC is required.”

This was to ensure that the fish stocks were able to recover from the present “appalling levels to slightly less appalling levels over the next decade”.

Lobster biomass, said Moolla, was at present 3 percent of pristine.

The recovery plan sought to re-build stocks to a still poor 5 percent of pristine in the next 10 years.

“Despite reaching consensus, we understand that one right holder (out of 1 000) was unhappy and approached the minister directly. We are informed that the minister then intervened and instructed an official at [the department] to not amend the lobster TAC for the 2012/13 season.”

“The consequences of this egregious and irresponsible conduct are substantial and long term. The effective abandonment of the OMP and recovery plan will mean that subsequent lobster TACs will have to be reduced by 15 percent and more for sustained periods. This will almost certainly result in adverse socio-economic consequences, including job losses and increased coastal poverty,” Moolla said.

But Adendorf said any suggestion of meddling “is inaccurate, malicious, misleading and without any substance or credence”.

The department “also notes with concern a never-ending campaign to drag Minister Joemat-Pettersson into decisions that she had no role in, even when she has delegated that authority to people within the department”.

The determination included 1 540 tons for commercial fishing offshore, 451 tons for commercial fishing near-shore, 183 tons of recreational fishing and 251 tons of subsistence fishing.

Adendorf said in terms of section 80 of the act “any affected person” could appeal to the minister against a decision taken by any person acting under a power delegated in terms of the act. The determination had considered scientific research, economic and ecological considerations “as well as employment creation”.

Jeremy Marillier, a FishSA executive, also heard that the minister “in response to an approach from a single rights holder”, had overturned the OMP. He described the OMP as an “intensive process” over two years involving scientists, industry, the department and fishery stakeholders.

They had aimed at a 35 percent recovery in this “heavily depleted resource” over the next decade.

“This changed TAC may… mean that larger TAC cuts will have to be taken in subsequent years in order to rebuild the resource. The industry, represented by the West Coast Rock Lobster Association, has not been consulted in respect of this change or the possible negative consequences of it.”