Fish-for-the-poor project challenged in court
The government is due to go to court tomorrow to defend an 8,000-ton fishing experiment that could decimate a valuable fishery. This follows a bid by several large fishing companies to have an experimental horse mackerel permit set aside on the grounds that it is illegal and contravenes scientific advice.It has also emerged that the quota granted to Hermanus businessman James Booi by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is still up for grabs.Booi is battling to land a catch agreement, reportedly due partly to concern over his "experimental" mandate.story_article_left1The quota amounts to two-thirds of last year's horse mackerel catch.The department has yet to formally explain the experiment, but Booi has described it as a socioeconomic project to market high-protein and inexpensive fish to poor households.A coalition of environmental organisations and fishing stakeholders issued a statement this week condemning the move as "irrational", and appealed to the government to heed scientific advice and adopt a cautious approach.Several sources claim the deal has the blessing of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana, although the permit was authorised by his chief director of fisheries research, Justice Matshili.The department insists Zokwana was not involved in authorising the deal but it will neither confirm nor deny whether he had met Booi prior to authorisation."The minister regularly engages with various right-holders and exemption-holders in all commercial fishing sectors, including small-scale and recreational fishers," said ministerial spokesman Bomikazi Molapo.Booi refused to speak to the Sunday Times this week.block_quotes_start Ironically, the scientific survey recommended for assessing the resource apparently served as a Trojan horse for the introduction of Booi's firm into the sector block_quotes_endEarlier this month, fishing industry stakeholders confirmed last-minute negotiations to stop a 120m Icelandic trawler from catching Booi's fish. He later signed a catch agreement with South Africa's biggest fishing company, Oceana. Now that deal, too, appears to be in the balance pending the outcome of the court case.The saga is detailed in court documents submitted by two of the biggest trawl industry organisations, the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association and the South African Midwater Trawling Association.In an affidavit, the associations' secretary, Johann Augustyn, confirmed the efforts to keep the fish in the sea.story_article_right2He said it appeared the department had justified the experimental permit on the basis of a report by its demersal scientific working group, which recommended a five-ton sample survey of horse mackerel due to concerns about the viability of the species' population."Ironically, the scientific survey that the [working group] recommended for assessing the resource apparently served as a Trojan horse for the introduction of Global [Booi's firm] into the sector ... to effectively pillage the resource at will," Augustyn said.Oceana CEO Francois Kuttel said the company's agreement with Booi was intended to keep the foreign-owned vessel out of South African waters."[It] was entered into on the understanding and assurance that the right had been properly allocated in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act," Kuttel said.Fisheries ministry spokesman Palesa Mokomele said: "The matter of horse mackerel is sub judice and, therefore, the department is not at liberty to discuss the matter."