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DAFF ignores science, wastes public funds in appealing High Court Rock Lobster ruling

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF) plans to appeal the recent Western Cape High Court ruling against fishing quotas for West Coast Rock Lobster thereby incurring further legal costs.
DAFF ignores science, wastes public funds in appealing High Court Rock Lobster ruling
©Raweewat Tuntisavee via 123RF

Last month, the Cape High Court ruled that the DAFF's 2017/2018 TAC of 1 924 tons of lobster did not comply with the South African Constitution, the National Environmental Management Act and the Marine Living Resources Act. The court ruled in favour of the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) and found that the DAFF failed to uphold its legal mandate of conserving marine resources.

If the rock lobster stock is allowed to be exploited any further, it risks becoming commercially extinct, leaving entire communities on the West Coast without this vital source of employment and seasonal income.

When asked about the cost of the legal appeal and who would be responsible for it, DAFF spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said he was "unable to comment on the cost of hiring lawyers".

Conservationists have heralded the court ruling as a 'historic' win for marine protection.

Ignoring scientific advice

Scientific data suggest the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) should be less than 790 tons per year to allow for the rock lobster population - of less than 2% of its original, pre-fished stock size - to recover. The current quota of over 1,924 tonnes is more than 1,134 tonnes over this scientifically-approved 'safe zone'.

Yet, according to Nkwanyana, the DAFF won’t be paying much attention to these scientific findings or the court ruling when determining the next season’s quotas in November this year. He says the DAFF will not "fall for the WWF push" to lower West Coast Rock Lobster fishing quotas.

According to WWF-SA, the court action was a 'last resort' for the NGO after attempting for several years to engage with the DAFF to lower the quota to save the declining marine resource, without success.

Significantly, the court found that when determining the TAC, the DAFF’s Deputy Director-General Siphokazi Ndudane failed to take into account the best available scientific evidence as required in terms of international law.

The High Court referred to the internal charge sheet against Ndudane, for a disciplinary hearing dated 3 September 2018 submitted as part of the WWF-SA’s case in an affidavit. The document alleges, among others, Ndudane’s involvement in 155 counts of fraud, 37 counts of theft, extortion, forgery, defeating the ends of justice, insubordination and that she signed fraudulent documentation pertaining to the West Coast Rock Lobster TAC.

Nkwanyana stated that Ndudane's disciplinary hearing,case has not yet been heard and that no date has been set to do so, in the meantime, Ndudane remains suspended on full pay .

'Corruption and greed'

DA deputy minister for DAFF Pieter van Dalen says it is shocking that the High Court needed to be involved to force DAFF to fulfil their legal mandate to protect South Africa’s marine resources, and for them to disregard the ruling and incur further legal costs – which the South African public will pay - exposes that the Department’s "corruption rot goes right to the top".

World-renowned marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon, who has been monitoring West Coast marine life since 1990, says he has “definitely noticed a decrease in rock lobster stocks, and specifically in the bigger individuals. There are also more lobster fishing boats than ever, and on a single flight [over the West Coast] it’s possible to see hundreds of traps in the water."

Hidden agenda

According to Van Dalen, the DAFF is knowingly overshooting the quotas to appease voters. He says the real “solution would be to assist the industry to practice sustainable aquaculture, which will then free up available TAC to distribute among fishing communities”.
Nkwanyana admits, however, that no aquaculture efforts have been implemented for West Coast Rock Lobster.

Beverley Schäfer, DA Chair for economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, says this disconnect between what the DAFF claims to be a top priority, and what is really being done to help local fishing communities, speaks volumes. "Surely it is the mandate of the DAFF to heed scientific advice to ensure the sustainability of our marine resources moving forward? Why would the Department then appeal a scientific recommendation made to protect West Coast Rock Lobster in perpetuity?

"No South African will benefit from the fishing sector if there are no fish left in our oceans," Schäfer says.

South Africa's unique West Coast Rock Lobster resource has declined dramatically over the last 50 years as a result of overfishing to the point where it is approximately only 1.9% of its original, pre-fished stock-size thus the risk of West Coast Rock Lobster becoming commercially extinct is extremely high with dire socio-economic and ecological knock-on effects.

About Louzel Lombard Steyn

Louzel Lombard Steyn is a freelance travel, food and conservation journalist currently based in Cape Town. Originally from a farm in the Karoo Midlands of the Eastern Cape, she is passionate about South Africa and the issues involving local communities and their impact on the environment. After graduating in journalism at Stellenbosch University, Louzel worked as a content producer for News24 Traveller24, travelling the country and Southern Africa extensively.

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