Minister insists there is no crisis in fishing industry
Time to make the high seas our business — for our future
SA lacks analysis of its fishing markets
In this article
- Companies and organisations: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
- People: Tina Joemat-Pettersson | Trevor Manuel
IT IS often easier to take a step back and deal with the big picture than to get your hands dirty sorting out intractable problems on the ground. This is frequently evident in South African politics, where the statements of intent and grand plans that emanate from government ministries all too often fizzle out or are ignored by the public servants who are supposed to implement them.
That does not mean good policy should not be formulated, just that more cognisance should be taken of practicality in a skills- and resource-poor, but corruption-rich, society. Politics is, after all, supposed to be the art of the possible, not of the grand gesture. Those who rely on the latter may gain in the short term, but the expedience of empty promises invariably catches up with them.
The disconnect between what happens at the top and at the coalface is especially striking in the fishing sector, where recent events illustrate that South Africa is trying to play a leading role on the international stage even as our own fisheries management system is imploding.
This week, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel hosted the inaugural meeting of the Global Ocean Commission, a body tasked with assessing the state of the high seas — the world’s oceans excluding national territorial waters — and formulating strategies to reverse their apparent degradation. This applies to a range of resources and activities, from the mining of minerals to using sea currents to generate electricity, but the most important challenge concerns the management of seafood stocks, many of which are being exploited in an unsustainable manner.
At the same time, South Africa, Namibia and Angola have just signed a convention defining the boundaries of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem, which stretches from Port Elizabeth in the east around the southern African coast to as far west as Angola’s Cabinda province. This, too, has the goal of managing the rich ecosystem associated with the cold waters from the southern ocean that flow northwards along the African coastline, with special emphasis on research, conservation and sustainable exploitation of the benefits it brings to all three countries, which are estimated to be worth more than $50bn a year.
Both of these initiatives are laudable for their foresight and vision. But they are being launched in a vacuum. Contrary to Mr Manuel’s magnanimous comment that South Africa’s coastal waters are being governed “with increasing success”, the reality is that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is dysfunctional. According to natural resources advisory firm Feike, which is run by a former fisheries management head at Marine and Coastal Management, gross mismanagement of South Africa’s fish stocks threatens the commercial viability of several industries, with both the resource and thousands of jobs now at risk of being destroyed.
The department admitted in its recent presentation to the parliamentary portfolio committee that South Africa’s economic exclusion zone is not being patrolled or monitored, because of its failure to ensure the proper functioning of its research and patrol vessels, leaving South Africa’s fish resources wide open to exploitation by South African and foreign vessels. Almost no research is being conducted into the actual state of the country’s fish stocks, as opposed to the output of computer models, so overfishing is a real danger and there is little factual basis for the allocation of annual quotas; species recovery plans are not being implemented; and poaching remains rife.
To top it all, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has just approved the appointment of a new acting chief director of marine resource management who, as an Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran, has all the right political connections but no relevant academic qualification for the job. The department is on the brink of becoming the next South African economic governance disaster.