Academics can support floundering South African fisheries department

South Africa’s marine fisheries’ contribution to the country’s GDP is relatively small, but the economic implications of how these marine resources are managed has far-reaching effects for small communities who are dependent on access to the sea for their livelihoods. And yet government management of fisheries over the past two years has been woefully inadequate, according to a Cape Town economist and fisheries specialist.

‘The Cape South and West Coast fishing communities live and die by the health of their fisheries, and the management of the resource has often been poor,’ says University of Cape Town (UCT) resource economist, Prof Tony Leiman.

This management failure, together with a controversial fisheries minister, have caused the loss of key scientific personnel and lengthy delays in the reallocation of expiring long-term fishing rights.

‘The rapid rotation of senior administrators, and the loss of institutional memory as others have resigned, have affected the department’s ability to deliver,’ explains Leiman.

‘Delays in allocation of fishing permits translate directly into welfare impacts for these small-scale fishers and their dependents. Delays in issuing permits for scarce resources such as rock lobster and oysters have resulted in communities taking the department to the Constitutional Court.’

Leiman argues that the department, ‘can’t keep running a natural resource based on interim relief measures’ such as those ruled by the courts.

Meanwhile the country’s public prosecutor was brought in to review the performance of then Fisheries Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, and ruled in December 2013 that the presidency should discipline the minister. The review found that Joemat-Pettersson handling of the departmental finances and tenders, ‘result(ed) in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, loss of confidence in the fisheries industry… alleged decimation of fisheries resources in South Africa and delayed quota allocations due to lack of appropriate research’.

Joemat-Pettersson has since been appointed Energy Minister.

Key legislation needs to be redrafted, according to Leiman, including the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 which is a ‘flawed document’.

Government has since consulted with the fishing communities, the industry and academia about amendments made to the document earlier this year.

‘Unfortunately much still remains to be done, and the current management of inshore fisheries, in particular the conversion of small-scale private rights to communal ones, has been a source of serious controversy,’ says Leiman.

With the state losing staff, the potential role of academics to support government in its fisheries management has grown. Scientists, modellers, social geographers and environmental economists are coming to the state’s aid.

Leiman, who is based at the university’s Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), says academics from UCT, Rhodes University and the University of the Western Cape, have been working together as interested parties to help guide government policy making.

‘These academics don’t want to be coercive, but have said to the department that if they need help, they only need to ask,’ says Leiman.


by Leonie Joubert

News | 27 November 2014