Johannesburg: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) had given SA a year's grace period to save the council's accreditation of the country's deep sea trawler-caught hake catch, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Selby Bokaba said yesterday. This comment came as the department sought to allay fears that SA would suffer heavy financial losses if it failed to facilitate the accreditation.
Fish SA, an umbrella body of fisheries associations, said its members faced losing the southern European market because of the financial crisis in that region, and would be locked out of the northern European market if SA lost MSC accreditation.
But the MSC said SA faced suspension as early as July 9, the date by which the country has to submit a surveillance audit report for its hake fishery. The fishery is SA's only MSC-accredited one, worth about R2,8bn a year. If SA is suspended, fish caught in its waters cannot be sold under the MSC logo.
Should this happen, SA would then have 90 days to submit an "action plan", which, if accepted, would mean the suspension would be lifted at a later stage, said MSC oversight director Daniel Hoggarth.
Democratic Alliance agriculture, forestry and fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen said Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson had "so thoroughly bungled" the issue that President Jacob Zuma could have included her in his reshuffle.
"If real job performance informed the criteria for the Cabinet reshuffle this week, Tina should have been the first to go," he said.
Ms Joemat-Pettersson has suspended this year's annual MSC-required observer programme, through which scientific observers go out to sea to determine the size of SA's hake stock, and how much can be caught sustainably. This followed a dispute over tenders with a company that would have organised the observer cruise. Ms Joemat-Pettersson's awarding of an R800m tender to black-owned Sekunjalo to run the department's vessels for five years from April 1 was cancelled after the previous tender holder, Smit Amandla, took the matter to court.
Mr Bokaba told Business Day yesterday: "There is no need to panic, we won't lose our MSC accreditation. Not a single job will be lost".
Mr van Dalen estimated losing MSC accreditation would put "at least 5000 jobs in jeopardy".
Mr Bokaba said the department had been given a year's grace to contract a new service provider for the observer cruise and that, as a new procurement process was under way, it should have a secured a deal by the end of August.
Mr Hoggarth said the only grace period SA's deep sea trawler-caught hake fishery had been given was an extension to July 9 of the March 17 deadline for the surveillance audit report. He said he was "sure" SA would meet the deadline, but, because the deadline for this year's annual hake survey cruise had been missed, it remained to be seen whether auditors Intertek Moody Marine's report would recommend continued certification.
Mr van Dalen said the government seemed content to "fritter away the decade of work done by (itself) and the deep-sea hake trawling industry to attain MSC accreditation", and criticised it for saying there were other eco labels certifying the sustainability of a fishery.
A World Wide Fund for Nature independent review of eco labels to determine the extent to which they met the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation's sustainability requirements showed that the MSC label was "the only one that came close", with a 97% score.
The MSC label is required by, among others, Unilever, the world's third-largest consumer goods company; Sainsbury's, the UK's third-largest supermarket chain; and the US's Walmart and Costco.