15 December 2004

Crayfish are stolen from our plates on spurious grounds, to benefit the wealthy

Crayfish - who does this resource belong to?

It used to be a resource widely available to South Africans to catch for their own use. For those who could not, purchase was possible at very low prices.

The prevailing assumption was that this natural resource belonged to the people of South Africa and that it was so prolific as to be practically inexhaustible.

But today it has become a very expensive food within the means of only the rich and very few others.

The fundamental reason for the change is that instead of the resource being regarded as belonging to the people of South Africa a bureaucracy has been set up that is allowed to dispense access as it sees fit in total disregard of the interests of the people and with accountability to none.

Under the rules enacted by this bureaucracy, Marine and Coastal Management, over 80% of the total catch finds its way into exports.

The profits accrue to a very small proportion of our population and the enjoyment of the resource effectively is largely the preserve of foreigners who aren't even tourists!

While it may sound like an exaggeration to say that MCM regards itself as accountable to nobody, letters questioning MCM policy go unanswered for nine months or more.

The particular questions I have raised includes the crucial one of to whom the resource belongs in the first place and where MCM gets the right to deny South Africans access while effectively favouring foreign consumers.

Also, why are recreational crayfishers limited to less than 10% of the catch while also being subject to far more limited hours of catching and a much shorter season than is the case with commercial catchers?

And why are skindivers denied the use of boats as a base for catching while no such restriction applies to the use of crayfish nets?

A serious effort was made over the years to engage MCM in discussion on these matters without success, until last month. MCM has now given what purports to be reasons for its ridiculous regulations, but it still makes no effort to state who it regards as the owner(s) of the resource.

To the question on discrimination against skindivers, MCM advises as follows: "Divers have the ability to select the biggest lobsters and remove them from the water. This selective removal of the largest individuals from the population has many biological risks to the resource."

Any skindiver will recognise this response as nonsense. The days are long gone when extra large crayfish were within the very limited scope of divers who have to rely on holding their breath.

In any event, if it is harmful to catch the largest specimens, why has MCM not enacted a rule to regulate a maximum size?

It is also generally known among crayfishers that the largest specimens caught these days are by methods that do not involve diving at all.

MCM goes on to say that: "Not allowing people with hoopnets to travel with diving equipment is a compliance measure as it would otherwise becomes (sic) impossible to tell if a person caught the lobsters by diving or with a hoopnet."

It should be noted that when a hoopnet gets stuck on the bottom (which happens hundreds of times during a season), it is not permissible to release it by using diving equipment.

Not only is the net lost, but the entire catch in the net is wasted. The obvious answer is to do away with the ridiculous prohibition on diving from a boat.

It seems that MCM hates divers. Divers are already at a disadvantage as diving is far more exhausting than using hoopnets.

Nor can divers hope to match depth range of those who use nets. Diving is moreover a healthy activity that should be encouraged.

The following MCM statement illustrates the extent of MCM's paranoia in respect of divers: "It is correct that the use of boats enables one to catch far more lobsters than without and we therefore want to discourage recreational divers from diving from boats.

Moreover, this would increase effort from this sector, as other boat divers such as spearfishers would then have access to the resource."

In view of the fact that there is evidently no limit on the number of net crayfishers this statement makes no sense. And, instead of encouraging catching methods that require physical fitness, these are demonised for no apparent reason.

In answer to the matter of creating an artificial shortage through exports, MCM advises that "the department cannot dictate to commercial fishers what they must do with their allocations and by exporting the lobsters they obviously try to accrue the biggest economic return possible and in so doing creates (sic) important source of foreign currency earnings".

The point that MCM fails to address is that commercial catchers, with their very long catching season unlimited by hours of the day or days of the week, are placed by MCM in an extremely privileged position.

Recreational catchers in contrast have to complete their catching by 4pm, which in summer means up to four hours before sundown!

And from February to April they are restricted to weekends only. MCM's claim that crayfish export constitutes an important source of foreign exchange earnings makes no sense at all in the current environment of a strong rand that has such a devastating effect on several categories of employment.

If MCM had any interest in the Proudly South African campaign it would appreciate the good sense of phasing out crayfish exports altogether.

By keeping the benefits of the crayfish resource within the country we would all benefit for the same reason that beneficiation of mineral resources is being encouraged.

But MCM's current preference for foreigners presumably means that it would also condone the creation of an artificial shortage of diesel fuel if the oil companies found it more profitable to export than to sell locally.

MCM's policy is to provide the commercial fishery with a huge quota (3 527 tons) called the Total Allowable Catch which, as we have noted, is overwhelmingly exported.

Instead of putting the recreational catch on a similar basis, it has resorted to enacting a set of prohibitions which in most cases (such as the prohibition on diving from a boat) defies reason.

Its claim that differential treatment is necessary for enforcement does not hold water.

While there is undoubtedly good reason to limit the total catch and also the bag of an individual recreational crayfisher, MCM gives no indication why recreational crayfishers should not be given a fixed allocation as is the case with commercial catchers.

Furthermore, as recreational crayfishers are required to report on what they have caught, the way is open to prosecute those who do not meet this requirement.

Notwithstanding MCM's reluctance ever to discuss what it does, it nevertheless makes some spurious claims of a scientific basis for its tortuous reasoning:

"We finally would like to state that all the regulations that are in place have been created with many years of thought, experience, trial and error and are therefore necessary for the proper management of the resource and should not be subjected to change without good scientific reason."

I point out that not a single scientific reason is cited for MCM's highly discriminatory regulations and its total avoidance of discussion indicates a high degree of comfort with its present arrogance.

Recreational crayfishers are generally ecologically conscious and would respond positively if given reasonable treatment.

What really requires urgent attention is the obvious need to phase out exports, thereby bringing down the price to local consumers and reducing pressure on the resource to the point where very little effort would be needed to ensure its preservation.


Post a Comment

<< Home