Lobster quotas shrink

An “enforced” decision by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to reduce the total allowable catch for West Coast Rock Lobster by 43.6% has sent shockwaves through the Hout Bay fishing community.

Earlier this month the ministry made an announcement that the TAC for the 2018/19 fishing season would be 1 084 tons, down from the 1 924 tons determined for the 2017/18 season.

This comes after last year’s TAC was successfully challenged by the World Wide Fund for Nature SA (WWF-SA) in the Western Cape High Court.

WWF-SA argued that the TAC was unsustainable and did not follow scientific advice.

WWF-SA argued that the West Coast Rock Lobster resource has declined dramatically over the past 50 years as a result of overfishing to the point where it was about only 1.9% of its original, pre-fished stock size. As such, the resource was in danger of becoming commercially extinct.

Last week, the department said the TAC for 2018/19 had been determined following consultations with a scientific working group and was in line with the high court judgment.

“Unfortunately, the department’s hand has been forced to neglect other management objectives of the fisheries sector, which centres around addressing socio-economic challenges of the fishing communities, without undermining sustainability aspects of the resources, which is at the centre of the government’s agenda, and the department’s implementation of ecosystem approach to fisheries management,” DAFF said.

Fisheries Minister Senzo Zokweni was aware of the challenges that the cuts would have to the industry, specifically the fishing communities, and understood the plight of those affected communities, the statement said.

“The minister is appealing the Western Cape court judgment because government understands that objectives of managing a fisheries sector is more than just numbers and graphs. It is more diverse than a simple maximisation of biological yield of the resource.”

The Hout Bay fishing sector, comprising mostly small-scale fishers currently operating under the department’s interim relief policy, is fearing the worst after the department’s announcement.

Interim relief status was bestowed on small-scale fishers in 2007, granting them short-term permits of between four and eight months.

The TAC for the small-scale fishing sector is now 170.25 tons (nearshore allocation plus interim relief measure), down from 235.3 tons for 2017/18.

A total of 140.83 tons has been determined for the small-scale fishing sector’s offshore allocation.

Donovan van der Heyden, a Hout Bay fishers’ representative who has been part of the small-scale process, said the cuts would undoubtedly have “negative ramifications” for Hout Bay.

“Let’s be honest, the resource will suffer at the end of the day. We’ve already seen it happening every time the department has reduced the TAC over the years. People start illegal fishing or poaching or whatever you want to call it because they simply aren’t able to earn enough money from their legal catch,” he said.

He said the reality was that members of the local fishing community did not have enough money to pay for legal fees to challenge DAFF’s decision in court.

“So the only recourse they have is to protest, and these protests sometimes turn violent. The fishers have tried negotiating with the department so many times, but it always comes down to the same thing and the TAC is reduced. So people get tired of negotiating.”

Those calling for reductions in the TAC were not taking into consideration the cost of petrol for boats or bait to catch lobster, Mr Van der Heyden said.

“They keep reducing what fishers may catch, so they can’t possibly pay for these things so they can earn a living.”

Mr Van der Heyden also did not believe DAFF’s assertion that it had been forced into the TAC reduction. “It’s political. DAFF is using the court ruling as an excuse to further drag out the process of securing proper fishing rights for small-scale fishers. They’ve been doing this for years.”

If anyone’s hand was being forced, it was that of the fishers, he believed.

“Now you’ll start seeing more undersized lobster being taken out of the ocean so people can earn money. Again at the end of the day it’s the resource that will suffer.”

In a statement, the Hangberg Interim Fishing Community said it was “not at all happy” with the new allocations.

“This will only see more poaching of the resource in the community. This decision was made on behalf of interim fishers and never with consulting them,” the organisation said.

The Hangberg Interim Fishing Community has joined other interim relief caretakers from around the Western Cape in drafting a letter to the minister.

In the letter, a copy of which is in the Sentinel’s possession, they point out that the small-scale nearshore and interim relief allocations of 170.25 tons will not suffice to meet the socio-economic needs of interim relief communities. They also state that the allocated time to start the season (December 15) is unacceptable, and that the costs relating to harvesting the current West Coast Rock Lobster allocation outweighs the profit.

The caretakers have proposed that the 140.83 tons from the small-scale offshore allocation should be partially allocated to the interim relief sector. “Our reason for this proposal was because last year an amount of 248.7 tons were allocated to small-scale fisheries offshore and it was not harvested and yet again we are going to sit with an allocation in the small-scale fisheries offshore that will be of no benefit to the communities.”

They have also proposed the TAC for the offshore commercial fishing sector, which stands at 575.43 tons, be further reduced.