Fisheries Minister Cans 500% Levy Increase

The Minister of Fisheries who took over as the political executive in charge of South Africa’s fisheries administration on 1 April 2010, confirmed that the proposed fish levies published by her colleague Buyelwa Sonjica earlier this year were both “bizarre” and “ridiculous”. She confirmed that the income from fish levies cannot alone be used to combat fishing. The Minister confirmed that MCM relies heavily on income from the sale of confiscated product and that this income could be utilised to combat poaching.

The fishing industry, artisinal fishers and the recreational sector must be thankful for this moment of sanity. The Minister’s frank and critical analysis of the draft levy proposals must be considered against the background that MCM’s financial woes continue into the current financial year.

Managing this financial crisis – the umpteenth one for MCM since 2005 – will be particularly challenging for the new Minister as she has committed her Department to a number of daunting fixes – not least the successful re-opening of the abalone fishery. As any diver will tell you – if you want to successfully open the abalone fishery to commercial diving again, make sure compliance is up to scratch, which it currently is not.

Poaching remains unacceptably high and brazen. Residents and divers in the Buffeljagsbaai and Gansbaai area reported to Feike that approximately 100 tons of abalone and lobsters were poached two weekends ago… and during the day. The Minister of Environmental Affairs did commit to re-opening the Hermanus Environmental Court in her budget vote on 16 April 2010 – although no date or timeframe for this was committed to. A dedicated, well resourced environmental court in Hermanus is a must-have in the battle against poaching. It is also time to review our sanctions and legal tools as the last legal review took place back in 2003. For example, it should become mandatory for convicted poachers to pay a fine based on a multiple (say 100 times) of the market value of the illegal product as well as forfeiture of all assets associated with the crime. For example, if you are caught with illegal dried abalone worth R100 000 on the international market (or any other illegal fish for that matter), your fine will be R10 million, alternatively an equivalently lengthy prison sentence.

The costs of poaching must far exceed any possible financial benefit.