Leave lo­cal fish­ers alone,go for Chi­nese il­le­gals

The Sunday Independent - - LEADER -

WHER­EVER there is il­le­gal fish­ing, con­flict arises. I am not talk­ing small-town fire­works by Hang­berg res­i­dents, protest­ing what they called fish­ing quo­tas at the Hout Bay har­bour on the 40th an­niver­sary of the death of Steve Biko.

The kind of con­flict that arises when the small guy, that help­less fish­er­man chok­ing un­der re­stric­tive quo­tas, gets frus­trated. It is the con­flict that can run into mil­lions of dol­lars. Ship­pingWatch.com re­ported that, at the height of So­mali piracy in 2013, raiders re­ceived $360 mil­lion (R4.7 bn)in ran­som paid.

The piracy in­dus­try then cost the world around $18 bil­lion; that is 6% of the South African econ­omy.

Why am I mix­ing So­mali piracy and the Hout Bay protests over fish­ing quo­tas al­leged or real? Be­cause what we call piracy in So­ma­lia started out as a beef over fish­ing.

Lo­cal fish­er­men stood by as for­eign­ers rolled into their wa­ters with big fish­ing nets and trawlers, de­priv­ing them of their fair catch.

Un­able to com­pete, they were left with no other op­tion but to cap­ture some boats in ex­change for ran­som.

The sit­u­a­tion at Hout Bay is noth­ing close to So­mali piracy – yet; but there is noth­ing to stop it from es­ca­lat­ing.

My anx­i­ety stems from the of­fi­cial re­sponse by the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries, and from my knowl­edge of how piracy evolves.

The state­ment on the gov­ern­ment web­site www.gov.za opens with a de­featist ad­mis­sion that the de­part­ment has “not taken a de­ci­sion on the to­tal al­low­able catch (TAC) for West Coast Rock Lob­ster”.

What fol­lows is that peren­nial dis­play of South African paral­y­sis: “a con­sul­ta­tive process is un­der way which is based on a rec­om­men­da­tion to re­duce the TAC from the pre­vi­ous fish­ing sea­son”.

So, the pro­test­ers had a good rea­son to get ner­vous?

The state­ment then la­bels the protest ac­tion of the fish­ing com­mu­nity of Hang­berg “mis­placed and mis­lead­ing as the de­ci­sion has not yet been fi­nalised”.

If the fish­ing sea­son in the North­ern Cape com­mences on Oc­to­ber 1, ex­actly two weeks hence, when did the de­part­ment ex­pect the fish­ers to start plan­ning?

It is dis­turb­ing that the de­part­ment dis­qual­i­fies the protest as pre­ma­ture, when on the other hand it recog­nises that the pro­test­ers de­pend on fish­ing “re­sources for food and as a source of in­come to meet ba­sic needs”.

All over Africa, be it in Lake Vic­to­ria, which is shared by Kenya (6% by area), Uganda (43%) and Tan­za­nia (51%), or in So­ma­lia or West Africa, gov­ern­ments fail to curb the big­gest cul­prit – in­stead, tri­fling with quo­tas aimed at con­trol­ling the small guy.

The real en­emy is il­le­gal for­eign fish­ing; in the case of African wa­ters, this is al­most exclusively the sin­ful pre­serve of the Chi­nese ves­sels. These are in­volved in what is termed il­le­gal, un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing, al­ready es­ti­mated at $2bn in West African wa­ters alone.

The par­ody of this is that these es­ti­mates are an at­tempt to mea­sure what is mainly un­re­ported and il­le­gal – mean­ing they are prob­a­bly un­der­stated, be­cause that is what un­re­ported in­ci­dents are.

At least 300 000 jobs could be saved in West Africa, if un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties were stopped.

How­ever, even more im­por­tantly, our gov­ern­ments will not need to po­lice protest ac­tions or en­force in­signif­i­cant quo­tas against peo­ple who do not pose any risk of over­fish­ing.

Fish­er­men are among the most nat­u­ral and dili­gent hus­tlers. You could be jog­ging at 7am on Mozam­bique Is­land, where you are likely to meet a fish­er­man al­ready done for the day, car­ry­ing a big fish to his fam­ily. On Dur­ban beach, it is the same. At 6am or 10pm, they are the first on and the last off the jetty as they pa­tiently wait for a break­through.

They do not catch more than they need and they know how to co-ex­ist with others. Im­pos­ing quo­tas on them, while ig­nor­ing the hi-tech Chi­nese trawlers, is fid­dling away while eco­nomic in­jus­tice is cor­rod­ing our un­equal econ­omy even more.

Leave those Hout Bay hus­tlers alone; go af­ter the big Chi­nese il­le­gals.

Au­thor of Africa is Open for Busi­ness; me­dia com­men­ta­tor and public speaker on African busi­ness af­fairs, and a weekly colum­nist for African In­de­pen­dent – Twit­ter Han­dle: @Vic­torAfrica

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