FOSAF NEWS - Additional context by FOSAF to Ian Cox’s “Trying to make sense of NEM:BA”.

FOSAF believes that it is important to provide some additional context to Ian Cox’s criticism of the Department of Environmental Affairs approach for the control of trout, bass and carp, under the regulations of NEM:BA.

FOSAF believes that, as any environmentally conscious citizen must agree, the general intentions of NEM:BA for the control of problem alien and invasive species, are good and honourable, and that this is much-needed legislation that is essential for the long term benefit of our country.  However, NEM:BA as it is currently framed does not provide sufficiently for the ability to differentiate between and balance relative environmental harm against social and economic benefits of biodiversity.

The South African economy is heavily dependent on species that have been imported over hundreds of years, to serve our manifold needs.  Where would we be without wheat to make our bread; maize and other plants which are now the staple diet of large numbers of people; pine and other trees for furniture and building purposes and for making pulp for paper and rayon; and so on?  The problem is that while many of these species were imported with the best of intentions, once some had become established here, and found the country much to their liking, their natural propagation capacities lead to their spread far beyond where they were originally intended to be.   Some of these, such as black wattle, provide important economic returns in some places, under control, but they also escape, and in other places, prove to be a problem, and cost large sums of money to control.  This spread has been accelerated locally because the plants concerned were not imported together with their natural enemies.  Consequently the need for control has become a necessity in some areas.  This country presently incurs major expense annually for the control of unwanted problem plants, such as black wattle, American bramble, to name but a few.  It is also known that there is a lengthy list of plants and animals that should never be allowed into this country because of their highly invasive qualities.

Without legislation such as NEM:BA, the annual budget for the control of seriously invasive plants and animals could become unaffordable.  It is bad enough as it is!  Accordingly, FOSAF is supportive in general, of the need for this kind of legislation and has largely supported it.  However, we believe that it is appropriate to support the continued presence of species which have clear and demonstrable value to society and have lobbied accordingly. .  But, despite the fact that many stakeholders such as ourselves, have repeatedly made representations to the officials and politicians who are solely responsible for the interpretation and implementation of the provisions of the Act,  it appears  that they have largely ignored our practical suggestions about the manner in which they should interpret the provisions of the Act..  FOSAF and others believe that they have not drawn their conclusions in a balanced manner, and consequently are not implementing the law in the national interest.

While Cox notes that trout, bass and carp are three of the alien fish in South Africa that have been listed in terms of the regulations of NEM:BA as “invasive”, we are confining our comment to trout alone.  These three species all have different behavioural characteristics, but trout have traditionally been the principal species sought after by our members, for their recreational angling so, for the moment, we confine our comment to trout.

Amongst the provisions of NEMA that have not, in our opinion, been adequately observed by DEA (in respect of NEM:BA), are the following:

“The State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the social, economic and environmental rights of everyone and strive to meet the basic needs of previously disadvantaged communities.”

“Sustainable development requires the integration of social, economic and environmental factors in the planning, implementation and evaluation of decisions to ensure that development serves present and future generations.”

It is apparent that by listing trout as “invasive” at this time, before making adequate provision for the economic and social aspects of the trout industry, DEA appear to us to have acted precipitously, without taking the above NEMA provisions into account.  Furthermore, as far as we are aware, DEA has not published their reasoning for classifying trout as “invasive”, as opposed to the lower category, “alien”. As outlined by Cox, this has serious negative consequences for trout and the trout industry (which is of considerable economic significance in this country for tourism, recreational and subsistence fishing as well as a luxury food item).  The industry was built on the back of official recognition and encouragement by a number of official agencies (such as then Natal Parks Board and parallel conservation agencies in other provinces). It may now be described as an industry because of the massive investment (now of multi-billion Rand proportions proportions), the number of businesses created and the number of people employed by it – many in rural areas. 

It is difficult to see how such a situation could have arisen.  It is not as though FOSAF and others have not made all these points to the DEA in our many written and oral submissions.  It should also be mentioned that attendance of meetings and workshops (in different centres, such as Cape Town and Pretoria) must be made at own expense, in terms of both time, travel, accommodation costs and so on.  It is thus extremely disappointing to note DEA’s apparent refusal to take account of the provisions of NEMA, by amongst other things, disregarding the social and economic aspects which appear not, in the case of trout, to been taken into account, but instead have focussing on the narrowest biological aspects.  See the comment by Bruton below.

It is the opinion of FOSAF that up until the lists were published, the activities which are now restricted activities under NEM:BA were lawful and people had permits to exercise them. However, there are presently no transitional arrangements or deeming provisions that allow what was previously lawful activities (obviously with existing permits) to remain so.  In any event, it seems to FOSAF that no permits are possible at present, because the regulations are inoperative and for a range of other issues such as the lack of capacity, developing management plans and the like.

In his excellent, recently-published book “Are Trout South African?” (which is well worth a read, if you have nor already done so), Duncan Brown discusses “eco-nationalism”, the “trout wars” and the anti-trout lobby.  This body of opinion advocates what we regard as extreme positions - a far cry from the balanced approach advocated by FOSAF, for developed landscapes (as opposed to protected areas).  As far as fish are concerned, the most succinct way of describing this balanced approach concept is possibly found in the statement by Prof. Mike Bruton, then Director of the J.L.B. Smith Institute of Rhodes University, who in 1990 wrote “We recognise that trout have been in South Arica for about 100 years and should perhaps be regarded as naturalised aliens, like the oak tree.”  Bruton praised the ethos of fly fishers, and continued, “Surely trout could then be seen from the cultural perspective and evaluated using socio-economic criteria.”  This is along the lines advocated by FOSAF, as well, I am sure, by other stakeholders of the trout industry.

One can only assume that this unwarranted action by DEA will result in a string of litigation being brought by businesses and the many stakeholders and adherents who have grown up as trout anglers!

To read Ian Cox’s article go to http://www.durbanflytyers.co.za/index.php/blog-2/

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