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Date: 24 March 2013 07:00
Producer: Liz Fish
Presenter: Bongani Bingwa
Show: Carte Blanche
Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche presenter): "It's about as picturesque and as busy as a harbour can look, but these calm waters here at Hout Bay belie the turbulence in the department under which our fisheries are managed as it has lurched from one crisis to another."
Among them - the failure to effectively patrol South Africa fishing grounds, and to execute some of the most basic bureaucratic functions in support of the fishing industry. The department itself is in disarray with ongoing hiring and firing of senior managers. The latest appointment is Deputy Director General Greta Apelgren-Narkedien.
Bongani: "Your appointment comes on the back of eight previous people in your position and in an acting capacity. Many of your critics would say the state of our fisheries management is in crisis."
Greta Apelgren-Narkedien (Deputy Director General): "I did not come here through an advertising process. I had requested the Minister to allow me to come and work in the department and she said, 'You are going to go and head fisheries branch.' And I said, 'Ah!' because, you know, I come from social development, health the whole social sector, I know it very well.' So fisheries was a little bit of a daunting task."
Bongani 'You are here to clean it up...
Greta: "Actually that is my words."
Bongani: "You're here to clean it up, but at the same time you're staying you have no previous expertise in this particular area?"
Greta: "You see most of these positions of deputy director general and head of department will normally look for a generalist, someone who knows how to manage government departments."
So no advertisements, no interviews.... completely irregular says Shaheen Moolla, former Fisheries DDG and expert in fisheries management. But even more damaging is the appointment of yet another generalist, with has no specialist knowledge of fisheries
Shaheen Moolla (Independent analyst): "The post of deputy director general requires a person with substantial knowledge of fisheries and expertise in fisheries . It requires the ability to negotiate and represent the South African fisheries at a regional level at SADC, but also internationally.'
But it's not the first controversial decision the Minister has made. Last year she awarded an R800-million contract to operate the research and patrol vessels to BEE company Sekunjalo despite tender irregularities uncovered by an independent investigator.
The tender was later revoked by the department after court action was launched by Smit Amandla Marine and the vessels were handed to the Navy. After 13 years, the minister was determined that the contract of Smit Amandla Marine would not be renewed.
Bongani: "It was about a year ago that I stood here at the Simon's Town Naval Base after the research and patrol vessels had been handed over to the Navy. Well, since then the patrol vessels have only been out at sea for a fraction of the time they were supposed to. And the lead research vessel, the RS Africana, has not completed a single successful mission and we are now told it is going to be out of commission for a further six months."
Shaheen: "Essentially the loss of the vessels removes the ability to consistently plan and manage our fishers. Our scientist, for example, do not know if the next research cruise will take place and neither does Industry."
The Navy was set up for failure because it had neither the personnel nor the procurement procedures to maintain the ships. When former DDG Sue Middleton intervened to rescue a critical hake research trip, she was suspended. Her crime was to hire crew who knew the quirks of these old vessels, employees of Smit Amandla.
An internal investigation exonerated Middleton and she's now suing the minister for R1-million for defamation.
The handover of the ships was a costly disaster. Now, the department admits it was a mistake and is getting the ships back, but are determined Smit-Amandla, a level 4 BEE company, won't be getting the job .
Greta: "I think it is more a question of an ethical issue: do you give it to the same company where there are allegations and you have already investigated them? You are just not complete because now it becomes a criminal investigation."
Smit Amandla say the Hawks have made no contact with them in the past year, and remain perplexed by the whole saga. We are still months away from having our waters patrolled. But the ships aren't the only blunder the DDG has had to rectify.
Bongani: "West coast crayfish is iconic. It's a rock star of a seafood platter. It is also a multi-million rand industry that is seriously under threat. It is over-fished at almost 97%, which effectively means it is more under threat than the rhino."
Prof George Branch (Marine biologist ): "If you imagine that this pen is the size of the resource as it was originally before fishing took place, we are now down to that little tip there, which represents only 3% of what was originally there. And I don't have to tell you that little 3% could be snuffed out all too easily."
Marine biologist, Professor George Branch, has spent the last 18 months serving on the Fisheries Department's scientific working group, helping to develop an operation management procedure - or OMP - to recover Crayfish stocks. It's a detailed scientific process that evaluates how much can be caught each year for the stocks to recover.
Prof Branch: "It is the cutting up of the size of the pie where socioeconomics become immensely important."
Major companies who fish far out to sea in big boats hold 61% of the total crayfish quota. Recreational fishers have 8%, subsistence 11% and Near Shore, 19%. So the big guys agreed to have their quotas cut, while the small guy's quotas would remain as they were. Shaheen says it was all legally cut and dried. But then the department reneged on the decision, legally binding or not, and the Total Allowable Catch remained unchanged for 2012. It ignored 18 months of scientific and socioeconomic research. It caused outrage, but scientists had seen recovery targets come and go in the past.
Dr Samantha Petersen (WWF-SASSI): 'We set a recovery target in 1996 and we hopelessly missed that target. So we set yet another target in 2006, a lower target and said, 'We haven't been able to recover the stock, we are actually at a lower level. Let's see if we can get it back to 1996,' and we failed to do that. So, in 2011, we set a third recovery target and now we are threatening to not deliver on that recovery target."
Dr Samantha Petersen of the WWF Sustainable Seafood Initiative says because of rampant poaching and the ignoring of recovery targets, they are taking action.
Crayfish are coming off the SASSI Green list, a sustainable resource, and going onto the Orange or Red list, a threatened species.
Dr Petersen 'We have seen retailers globally and locally making strong commitments to only sourcing sustainable seafood. So species being placed on an orange or red list will have implications for whether they will continue to source that product or not.'
The other sector that is extremely unhappy is the Small Scale Fishing Sector with 11% of the quota. 1500 People were granted interim rights while the new policy was being developed, but many more were left out and have turned to poaching.
Bongani: "When the interim relief process was first instituted it was meant to benefit small fishing operators. Seven years later a policy has been put to Parliament, but it is very thin on details as to how its going to be implemented. In the meantime in places like Hangberg poaching continues to be rife."
Donovan van der Hayden comes from four generations of fishermen. He represents interim fishermen in Hout Bay. Staying on the right side of the law is difficult, because Hangberg is on a Marine Reserve, and few fishermen qualified for permits.
Donovan van der Hayden (Coastal Links Hangberg Representative): "What I am saying, if they legalised the small scale fisher and allowed him to catch fish within his traditional area we can also build a relationship with the department, with the scientist... our traditional knowledge is also of value to the scientist and we can actually work together."
About half-a-million tonnes of crayfish are poached each year. Monitoring the catch is an ongoing problem with accusations of corrupt fisheries officials and poor record keeping.
Donavan: "Who is responsible for the depletion of the stocks? They try to blame it on poaching, yet the commercial industry have more than what they rightfully deserve. Bongani, one thing we must get clear is that the traditional fisher is not against conservation or preservation of the resources. It is our livelihoods - we are the first people who depend on the stocks, okay. So we are not going to do something that impacts on our livelihoods."
Scientists say unless drastic action is taken now it will affect everyone's livelihoods.
The Department says the reason it didn't cut the quota this year was because of the pressure under which the small to medium enterprise deep sea quota holders put them under. It took three months of outrage before the department called a meeting and recommitted to cut the quotas next year.
Greta: "So I think that it has been a tough decision and getting people to understand that you may put pressure on us now in terms of your current export contract, that is the small scale guys, but this is our long term plan. We may have surrendered to you but you know we won't be able to do that."
Because the quota wasn't cut, it means even bigger cuts and next year, which is an election year. And, no doubt, more political pressure will be brought to bear on the DDG and her department.
Prof Branch: "I really believe that leadership has been severely lacking you know. You know, fisheries is blessed with some outstanding scientists but it is no good for good science to work in isolation. You need an integration between the management, the politicians, the people who's responsibility is the policing and control of activities, and the scientists collectively."
Fisheries remains on the dark side of the Moon, a political football that lacks decisive leadership and in the dark of night, poachers of all forms continue to decimate the stocks.
While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.