Cape Town - The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) has responded to the court challenge by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa, saying it needs to consider more than just paired-down scientific evidence as a basis for the quotas it allows.
Daff said the court challenge by WWF-SA was "a subterfuge designed to scupper Fisheries Transformation agenda".
"At the heart of this legal dispute by World Wold Fund (WWF) is whether government should consider socially denuded scientific advices against a balance between scientific opinions taken together with socio economic realities within which their application will be premise," Daff said.
"As South African government, appreciating the social dynamics such as the need to create more access for the small scale fisheries and coastal communities to the fishing sector, we choose an approach that is balanced - that is scientific considerations coupled with the appreciation of our inescapable mandate to increase access to the marine living resources, especially for those who were excluded in the past," it said.
"The issue in contention by WWF is the allocation of quotas in West Coast Rock Lobster (Total Allowable Catch). The Fisheries management branch has made a determination for Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in line with the provisions of section 2 of the Marine Living Resources Act , which amongst other things stipulates the following:
A) achieve optimum utilization and ecologically sustainable development of the marine living resources
B) conserve marine living resources for both present and future generations;
C) apply precautionary approaches in respect of the marine development;
D) utilise marine living resources to achieve economic growth, human resource development, capacity building within fisheries, employment creation and a sound ecological balance consistent with the development objectives of a national government;
E) the extent applicable, a broad and accountable participation in the decision making processes; and
F) recognise approaches to fisheries management which contribute to food security, socio economic development and alleviation of poverty.
"In light of these provisions and as asserted above, the determination of the West Coast Rock Lobster allocation of quotas involved a careful balance of the most competing interests and considerations such as scientific, ecological, economic and social justice. A lopsided biological and scientific consideration by WWF and other Scientists, as a silver bullet in South African context may harm the sector significantly.
"An example was a recommendation by scientist for 59% cut of West Coast Rock Lobster TAC, but our consultation with individual small scale fisheries, fishing companies, and representatives of fishing communities along the coast was that this cut (in the name of saving marine resources) will result into massive job losses bloodbath, retrenching more than 50% workers within the sector.
"Government cannot be oblivious to this fact, given the already existing high levels of poverty the country has which is impacting seriously on the national discourse through social wage dispensation the state is dispensing.
"We hold the view that biological and scientific considerations are important and need to be considered in the broader spectrum of socio economic balance, in particular for a developing country like ours whereby social and economic cleavages are so acute. In areas where there are no issues of redress to level the access fields in the marine living resources extraction which is the biggest economic endowment the country has, we will definitely act in ways that are non-interventionist.
"But in this case, the risk in government if it were to fall for the WWF push, would be to blunt diversification and leave the sector as an exclusive reserve for white companies including foreign fisheries companies whilst it's people remain paupers. We are not prepared to travel that route!
"As government we are faced with a myriad of challenges that organizations like WWF should be working with us in resolving within the marine living resources such as the global warming affecting the future of marine resources, and poaching that is endangering these. We have just won a big case in the USA of one of the biggest poaching company in SA waters and we are repatriating money back after the US court ruled in our favor. These are challenges that requires partnerships than brinkmanship," Daff said.
"No amount of big corporate media campaign and well financed front NGOs using courts against government will deter our determination to transform the marine living resources harvest to benefit those that were previously excluded by apartheid and colonialism; this court battle (for which we are opposing) is another fig leaf that disguises itself as a morally just cause against government when in fact it is a subterfuge designed to scupper radical economic transformation within the fisheries economy," Khaye Nkwanyana, spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said.