Court reels govt in on rock lobster catch limits

2018-09-27 22:22
Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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The World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature is celebrating after the SA government lost a court application challenging the total allowable catch (TAC) set for West Coast rock lobster for the 2017/18 fishing season.

The WWF was concerned that the high amount was endangering the species.

"We are encouraged that the court has upheld our view that the decision to set last season's total allowable catch for West Coast rock lobster at an unsustainably high 1 924.08 tons was irrational, unlawful and inconsistent with the Constitution, the National Environmental Management Act and the Marine Living Resources Act," the WWF said after Wednesday's judgment.

Judge Owen Rogers ruled that the department's decision to refuse to reduce the TAC from around 1 924.08 tonnes, in spite of advice from scientists, to protect the long-term future of the popular crustacean, was invalid.

The case follows a complex application by the WWF in which they sought a declaration that the TAC for the 2017/18 season should have been 790 tons to give the slow-growing rock lobster population time to rejuvenate.

The application was made amid harvesting between large fishing companies, co-operatives and poachers, which left the rock lobster population at 1.9% of what it should have been.

Agreements to reduce TACs over a number of years to allow the lobster population to be replenished had also been varied, with catch limits going higher than recommended amounts.

In his judgment, Rogers noted that an official in the department had insisted on keeping the TAC at a higher amount for the sake of the money that poor fishermen and families would make out of their catches and because these families desperately needed the income.

However, Rogers said that in spite of pressing socio-economic needs, there are international court judgments that find that "generational equity" - making sure there is enough for future generations too – is more important.

He said the fisheries official who made the final decision to not lower the TAC from 1 924.08 to protect the species, did not base her decision on substantial or scientific evidence.

He also noted that the official was implicated in a case involving the alleged fraudulent sale of confiscated abalone and that her paperwork regarding the catch allocations was changed twice. In addition he noted that reasons for her decision took months to be made available in writing.

The TAC for 2018/19 is about to be announced by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Department spokesperson Khaye Mkwanyana said the department was still studying the judgment before commenting fully. However, he said the department believed that they had been correct to be on the side of the poor.

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Read more on:    wwf  |  courts  |  fishing

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