Right of reply – ‘Fisheries face stormy seas’

2013-03-03 10:00

The Editor

City Press

Dear Madam

I read your newspaper’s article entitled “Fisheries Face Stormy Seas” (dated 17/02/2013) and I must declare my disappointment with the inaccuracy of some of the information reported in this article.

I believe that it does not serve the public interest to tell your readers lies and/or to manipulate factual information to the extent that it then becomes a lie.

Also, there was no response/input from the Fisheries Management Branch of the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries which could have provided your readers with a balanced view of the challenges in the fishing industry.

I am sure that your newspaper subscribes to the most fundamental principle that “the public has the right to know”, therefore you will be so kind and fair to your readers by publishing the department’s following inputs to your article, however late it may be:

1. The previous company, initially engaging mostly in salvaging, who managed the department’s two research vessels and four patrol vessels for 12 years, started with a five-year contract awarded to it via a standard tender-procurement process while the fisheries branch functioned under the then department of environmental affairs and tourism.

This contract was extended in late 2004 for a further five years although the standard tender-procurement processes were not followed.

The contract was again extended in 2010/11 and 2011/12.

This company having had the opportunity of managing, manning and maintaining these six state-owned vessels for 12 years thereby gaining a superior advantage in terms of technical functionality and possibly financial viability for such a contract, over time.

When they were awarded the contract for the first five-year period, they absorbed most of the crew, including marine engineers, who were employed by the then department of environmental affairs and tourism.

They were also provided with advance payments by the department, over the years, thereby increasing their opportunity to develop a superior advantage over time.

The question then is, does this superior advantage mean that they alone should continue to manage, man and maintain these six state-owned vessels for an indefinite period?

When will other smaller role players be given a similar opportunity to develop a similar superior advantage, possibly with similar support from the state?

The tender-procurement process of 2011/12 resulted in another smaller consortium being awarded the five-year contract.

The larger company, who had the contract for 12 years, then launched litigation against the department, opposing the appointment of the smaller company.

Faced with the extreme pressure of litigation, the smaller company graciously withdrew from its legitimate appointment.

The litigation and resulting failure of the 2011/12 tender-procurement processes plunged the department’s six vessels into a crisis of unknown management, crewing and maintenance.

Hence, as a desperate measure, the two ministers and two directors-general of the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and the department of defence and military veterans agreed to provide a safe home for these six vessels and to manage, crew and maintain them at their naval port in Simon’s Town, for one year pending the conclusion of a new tender-procurement process being undertaken.

Due to the standard bureaucratic processes, lengthy tender-procurement processes and secure financial management processes used by the SA Navy, as well as the overcrowded docking/berthing space resulting from the inclusion of the six fishing vessels, which are very large ships, the navy personnel and its ship-repair contractors struggled with such a massive responsibility.

Also, for the SA Navy to be given only one year to understand the uniqueness of the specifically constructed fishing merchant vessels (as opposed to the state’s “warships”), as well as to secure additional ship-repair contractors, which usually takes up to six months for any government department, was an unfair and unrealistic expectation.

Due to the SA Navy’s secure financial management processes, the department could not transfer funds from its National Treasury Conditional Grant for Vessel Management and neither could the department make advance payments to them. Consequently, the SA Navy utilised their own funds and invoiced the department later.

All except the last invoice was paid by the department to them.

2. In early December 2012, the SA Navy officially informed the department that the main research vessel the Afrikana, which was 31 years old on February 28 2013, required extensive repairs to the extent that it would only be available for (deep sea) research surveys in May/June 2013.

The department then used the emergency procurement regulations provided for in the Public Finance Management Act to charter a privately owned fishing trawler vessel from our partners in the commercial fishing industry for the department’s scientists to undertake the hake survey.

Although the department’s procurement regulations delayed securing a chartered vessel from the commercial fishing industry in order for the hake survey to commence as of early January 2013, the department’s scientists nevertheless shared research facilities on the Norwegian government’s fish research vessel, the Dr Fridtjof Nansen.

It commenced the initial aspects of the summer hake survey as an interim measure.

The Norwegian government, as part of its social responsibility to the fishing industry in Africa, undertakes fishing research in the coastal areas of Africa.

After consulting with the leadership of Fish SA and the SA Deep Sea Trawlers’ Association

(major coordinating bodies for the various role players in the commercial fishing industry), the department then contracted Viking Fishing for the chartering of their vessel, the Andromeda, to assist us with the full survey of the Cape shallow-water kake (merluccius capensis) and the Cape deep-water hake (merluccius paradoxus) – both species are demersal (bottom-living) predators.

The Andromeda sailed out to sea with the department’s scientists on board on the February 12 2013, one month later than originally planned.

The department apologises sincerely to the people of South Africa for this unintended delay.

The chartering of the Andromeda vessel is not paid for from the levies paid in to the Marine Living Resource Fund (managed by the department in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act of 2008), as alleged in your article by Mr Moolla of Feike Management.

This 35-day vessel charter, costing the department R4.27 million, excluding diesel for the vessel, is paid for from the savings of state funds (National Treasury Conditional Grant: Fisheries Vessel Management) which the SA Navy was not able to fully use.

So there was no “double taxation” of the fishing industry as alleged by Mr Shaheen Moolla.

The levies and permit fees paid into the department’s Marine Living Resource Fund, by the commercial fishing industry as well as the small scale fisheries and subsistence fisheries, makes up far less than 45%-50% of the total operating budget of the Fisheries Management Branch.

The taxpayer, through National Treasury, fully funds most of the professional services provided to the fishing industry by the Fisheries Management Branch.

For evidence, your readers can access the department’s statutory annual reports with its audited annual financial statements of the Marine Living Resource Fund (daff.gov.za/doaDev/fisheries/index.html).

3. To be competitive, the industry has to penetrate niche markets.

Penetrating such markets requires innovation, value adding and good marketing.

This is where the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) comes in.

The MSC is an independent non-profit organisation that sets a standard for sustainable fishing.

Fisheries that wish to demonstrate they are well managed and sustainable against the science-based MSC standard, are assessed by a team of experts who are independent of both the fishery and the MSC.

Seafood products can display the blue MSC eco-label only if that seafood can be traced back through the supply chain to a fishery that has been certified against the MSC standard.

In high-value markets, consumers tend to choose certified products and the product then usually enjoys a price premium.

The South African Hake Trawl Fishery (excluding the other sectors) was certified in 2006 and recertified in 2011.

It is currently the only hake fishery certified, which gives it a marketing advantage. Because the main markets in southern Europe have almost collapsed in recent years due to economic problems in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, hake exports have come under severe pressure.

The MSC has been the differentiator that has given South Africa access to certain markets in northern Europe, Australia and the US.

Seventy percent of domestic hake output is exported and the economic disarray in the above-mentioned Mediterranean countries caused deficient demand for fish products in the region, especially in Spain, the world’s greatest hake-consuming country, which always bought very large amounts of South African hake.

4. Although the department’s scientists were prevented from undertaking the annual research cruises during 2012 due to the unavailability of the department’s vessels, they were nevertheless able to do the most critical research surveys linked to the MSC audit and recertification.

In addition, although the department’s law-enforcement officers in the monitoring, compliance and surveillance unit were prevented from undertaking their regular deep-sea surveillance cruises during 2012 for the same reason, they were still able to maintain surveillance of the deep-sea fishing trawlers, which are fitted with the department’s tracking devices so that their movements at sea are monitored.

Failure to undertake these deep-sea research cruises and deep-sea surveillance cruises does impact negatively on MSC recertification.

The MSC carries out its next audit for recertification during early March 2013, involving both the department’s research and development unit and our monitoring, compliance and surveillance unit, as well as the commercial fishing industry.

5. Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has supported the fisheries branch’s proposal to engage in emergency procurement regulations as provided for in the Public Finance Management Act, to procure ship repair companies who can urgently repair the state’s fishing vessel fleet and contract crew and ship management services, so that the critical research cruises and deep-sea patrols can commence as soon as possible.

6. Another proposal, which the minister has supported, is for the fisheries branch to simultaneously proceed with the complex tender-procurement processes for a long-term solution involving both small and large role players in the management, crewing and maintenance of the department’s fishing fleet.

» Greta Apelgren-Narkedien: deputy director-general fisheries management programme, department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries

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