Desmond Stevens

Melanie Gosling

DESMOND Stevens, the acting head of fisheries, has been removed from his post – the latest in a string of people who have been appointed and then removed from the key post in the last three years.

As acting deputy director-general of the fisheries branch of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Stevens’ job was to manage the country’s multibillion-rand fishery resources, which included allocating fishing rights in various sectors.

Yesterday Edith Vries, the director-general of DAFF, confirmed that Stevens had been removed. Asked why, Vries said it was because he had wanted to take leave, which he had not been able to do during December and January.

“It is a key position… We cannot afford a leadership gap or instability. Hence the department made a new acting appointment to address the latter,” Vries said.

She did not name the new acting head, nor explain what had happened in the past with other heads of fisheries when they took leave.

Stevens has been a controversial figure because of the outcry around the traditional line fishing rights, when many fishermen lost their livelihoods when their rights were not renewed.

The SA Commercial Line Fish Association, made up of small-scale commercial fishermen, has now taken legal action against Stevens and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. The case is to be heard in the Western Cape High Court this month.

Stevens declined to comment.

Shaheen Moolla, a fisheries management consultant who used to work in the fisheries department as a chief director, welcomed Stevens’s removal from the post, saying he had been “one of the most controversial” heads.

“By our count, this will be the 14th acting deputy director-general of fisheries since January 2011”, Moolla said, adding that none of them had been properly qualified or experienced in fisheries management.