Sur­vey to set sail in fund­ing squall

Sunday Times - - NEWS - BOBBY JOR­DAN

A BUD­GET cri­sis at the fish­eries depart­ment has grounded an im­por­tant ocean sur­vey and raised ques­tions about the fu­ture of re­search and pa­trol ves­sels.

The fleet plays a vi­tal role in species stock as­sess­ments and quota al­lo­ca­tions, and pa­trols the coast to com­bat il­le­gal fish­ing.

An April re­search sur­vey did not take place and an­other was post­poned due to an ap­par­ent fi­nan­cial short­fall, sev­eral sources con­firmed this week.

Af­ter last-minute re­pairs, the flag­ship re­search ship Africana is ex­pected to sail from Cape Town to­mor­row to con­duct a sur­vey orig­i­nally sched­uled for May. The month­long re­search cruise hung in the bal­ance un­til the last minute.

The Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries de­clined to an­swer ques­tions this week. But the Sun­day Times has es­tab­lished that:

The South African Mar­itime Safety Au­thor­ity, which man­ages the fleet on be­half of the depart­ment, did not re­ceive the money to com­plete fleet re­pairs;

As a re­sult, con­trac­tors were not paid, re­sult­ing in in­ter­rup­tions to re­pair work; and GO­ING FISH­ING: The flag­ship re­search ship Africana, which is ex­pected to sail from Cape Town to­mor­row

A fund­ing short­fall re­sulted in the fleet’s monthly op­er­at­ing bud­get be­ing spread across the en­tire year. The fleet’s an­nual bud­get is around R200-mil­lion.

In­dus­try um­brella bod­ies Fish SA and the South African Deep Sea Trawl­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion con­firmed that there were con­cerns about the fleet, which has nav­i­gated trou­bled wa­ters since a ves­sel man­age­ment fi­asco in 2013.

A failed bid to award an R800mil­lion con­tract to Sekun­jalo In­vest­ments re­sulted in the fleet be­ing trans­ferred to the navy, where many ves­sels fell into dis­re­pair. They were res­cued by Samsa and re­paired at great ex­pense, but now face a fresh bud­getary cri­sis.

“They have cut the bud­get dras­ti­cally,” said trawl­ing as­so­ci­a­tion sec­re­tary Jo­hann Au­gustyn, a for­mer fish­eries depart­ment chief di­rec­tor.

“It’s the sec­ond year in a row they [the depart­ment] didn’t do the South Coast de­m­er­sal sur­vey. If you start miss­ing sev­eral sur­veys it in­creases uncertainty, and that means hav­ing to set a lower to­tal al­low­able catch.” This trans­lated into less in­come.

Last year the pri­vate sec­tor paid R700 000 for its own sur­vey of an­other fish­ery in the ab­sence of an avail­able govern­ment ves­sel.

Fish SA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Jeremy Mar­il­lier said the or­gan­i­sa­tion would con­tinue to speak to the depart­ment in search of “con­struc­tive so­lu­tions”.

A source in the ship re­pair sec­tor was less diplo­matic. “They don’t even have money for fuel, or for equip­ment that needs to be re­paired. Half of the elec­tri­cal stuff has been locked away [by un­paid con­trac­tors],” he said.

Pic­ture: DERRICK SPIES

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