Govt delays will cost fishing industry R250m
While govt dithers over stranded survey ships, fish go uncounted and fishermen's livelihoods hang in balance
How many fish are left in the sea? Don't ask the South African Fisheries Department which has delayed a vital stock survey in the South Atlantic Ocean due to vessel problems. And it could cost the fishing industry R250-million.
With the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' main scientific survey ship stuck in port due to maintenance issues, the department must rely on a privately-owned vessel to accommodate their survey scientists. However senior management is reportedly unwilling to pay the full cost of chartering the vessel. The private vessel has now been deployed elsewhere pending resolution of the impasse.
Without an accurate stock assessment, the government is duty-bound to impose conservative catch limits on the fishing industry, which in the case of pelagic fish – sardines and anchovy – could translate into a loss of up to R250-million.“The situation is not yet resolved and it must be done in the next few days otherwise it will be too late,” an industry insider involved in the standoff told Times Select.
“We still do not know whether Daff is going ahead with the survey. The scientists had requested that a shorter survey be done using an industry vessel at the same cost as the Daff one would have been, but it still has to be approved by Daff in Pretoria. Meanwhile, we are running out of time.”
Daff has already missed two previous surveys for hake, South Africa’s main export fish. “Now we might also miss the pelagic recruit survey, and if it does not happen the total allowable catch [TAC] for anchovy cannot be adjusted and it will be a huge loss to the industry,” the source said.
The current survey is also crucial to estimating the state of the sardine resource ahead of a follow-up survey in November.Responding to queries last week, Daff confirmed it was “in the process of requesting permission” to charter the fishing vessel Compass Challenger due to the unavailability of the (research ship) FRS Africana.“The 2018 recruit survey estimate is the most important input for finalising the anchovy total allowable catch and sardine by-catch (TAB) allowances in the anchovy fishery for 2018,” Daff said in a statement. “Pelagic surveys that have used the Compass Challenger over the period 2013-2016 provided results that are comparable to those obtained from the Africana.”
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has voiced concern about a lack of up-to-date information about several fisheries due to survey delays and interruptions.
“Good fisheries management requires adequate data collection and a solid understanding of the resource,” WWF said in a written statement in response to queries.“Important parts of data collection are catch returns and fishery independent surveys, which are important when assessing the state of a fishing resource and informing appropriate management responses. This makes any interruptions or delays to either of these a cause for concern, especially in highly variable resources like small pelagic fish species where sudden biomass changes can occur from one year to the next.”
Daff’s senior management raised eyebrows by ignoring recent scientific recommendations from a working group tasked with ensuring responsible fisheries management.