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Holidaymakers hoping to splash out on a plate of West Coast rock lobster in December may have to choose something else to go with their sundowners as round two of a court battle over how much of the species may be caught looms.
This follows an application by the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries for leave to appeal a judgment in September which found that the total allowable catch (TAC) of 1 924.08 tons was too high.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) spokesperson Andrea Weiss said the application for leave to appeal would be heard on December 11*. This is shortly after the December to February season for catching the species opens.
In September the court found that keeping the TAC so high could endanger the survival of the species.
The department’s view is that lowering the catch will bring financial ruin to small fishing communities who live on selling their catch. “How are they going to feed themselves? There must be a balance between conserving marine species, but making sure at the same time you don’t condemn people to hunger,” department spokesperson Khaya Nkwanyana told News24 after the application for leave to appeal was made on Monday.
Current limit ‘irrational, unlawful’
The department is appealing the September judgment that was in favour of the WWF’s view that leaving the TAC that high could lead to the decimation of already dwindling numbers of the species, and leave nothing for future generations of fishermen.
The court ruled that the TAC of almost two tons for the 2017/18 season was “irrational, unlawful and inconsistent with the Constitution, the National Environmental Management Act and the Marine Living Resources Act”.
It was also out of line with a long-term programme to reduce the TAC to help stocks grow again.
However, Nkwanyana said that Minister Senzeni Zokwana believes the department is correct in appealing the judgment as he wants to help small-scale fishers survive.
“The minister’s decision was informed by the realities of South Africa, and of communities that he wants to benefit. It is for small-scale fisheries and coastal communities who need to be scaled up to have a higher percentage of the total catch so that in future they can develop to become established like the bigger companies,” explained Nkwanyana.
He said there were small communities that depended on their rock lobster catch to survive and it was for this reason that the department wanted a chance to state its case more fully when it submitted its argument in the appeal.
TAC of 790 tons recommended
WWF’s Weiss said that until the matter is settled, both parties had agreed to a court order on what to do in the interim. The order was between WWF and the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; the deputy director general of the fisheries management branch of the department; the rights holders in the West Coast rock lobster section and the South African Small Scale Fisheries Collective. It states that the TAC would be what the scientific working group set on September 3 for the 2018/19 season.
Confirmation of what that is was not immediately available but in his judgment, Judge Owen Rogers noted that the scientific working group established by the department stated that unless poaching dropped significantly, the TAC should be reduced to 790 tons.
Costs will be argued and determined later.
*This story incorrectly reported that leave to appeal was granted. Rather, the application will be heard on December 11.