Careful what you fish for, Cosatu

Cosatu, a vocal critic of foreign companies’ exploitation of South Africa’s fishing quotas, has a sizeable share in a local company with controversial business links with a convicted Spanish poacher.

Mail & Guardian Online reported last week on the accusation by Dumisa Ntsebeza, advocate and member of the Judicial Service Commission, that the trade union federation had a 30% share in the Offshore Fishing Company, of which he himself is a director.

Cosatu had accused Ntsebeza of a conflict of interest centred on an Environmental Affairs Department contract with another company, Equilore, of which Ntsebeza is chairperson.
The contract involves Equilore mediating between the department’s marine and coastal management (MCM) unit and small-scale fishermen.

The M&G has now established that Ntsebeza is correct about Cosatu’s shares in Offshore, according to MCM’s share registry.

Offshore also had a joint venture with a notorious Spanish poacher, Manuel Martinez-Martinez.

In 2002 Martinez-Martinez was convicted in a South African court of overfishing. He was personally fined R100 000, his company R150 000, and his vessel was impounded.

Martinez-Martinez is a beneficiary of so-called “paper quotas” from Offshore. These are quotas that local companies sell to other fishing outfits “because the holders of quotas do not always have an appetite for the risk involved”, a leading player in the fishing industry told the M&G. Such outfits have boats and factories, and they catch, process and market the fish.

New fishing quotas awarded by environmental affairs to boost black empowerment in the sector came into operation in 2006.

Local fishing companies had believed that the Spanish threat to South Africa was on the wane, partly because of their vehement campaign against paper quotas. Even so, they remain sceptical about firms such as Offshore, which are perceived to be selling their rights to make a quick buck.

Cosatu owns its share in Offshore through its investment company, Kopano Ke Matla. Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the federation was studying the M&G‘s revelations and would comment when all “interested parties had been consulted”. Kopana ke Matla CEO Collin Matjila referred all questions back to Cosatu.

The revelation of Cosatu’s stake in Offshore has caused ructions within the federation, which released a statement at the weekend calling the chairperson of its fishing desk, Gary Simpson, a “dissident” whose “actions will be investigated”.

Simpson has been leading Cosatu’s campaign against the Spanish and has also denounced Ntsebeza’s interests in Offshore. This week he slammed the federation’s “stake in the fishing industry”, telling the M&G that it “epitomises everything that all members of the [Cosatu] fishing desk stand opposed to—political elitism, potential paper quotas in the hake, pilchard, anchovy and squid sectors and empowerment of the non-deserving”.

An Institute of Security Studies (ISS) report on illegal fishing in South Africa released in March this year revealed that the beneficiary of Offshore’s hake fishing quotas was Martinez-Martinez.

Tim Reddell, the operations director of South African fishing company Viking Fishing and one of the fiercest critics of the Spanish interests, said Offshore’s relationship with Martinez-Martinez was problematic because of his reputation as a poacher. He said pressure asserted by local fishing companies on MCM to stamp out paper quotas had forced the Spaniard to retreat to Namibia two months ago.

Shaheen Moolla, author of the ISS report, said: “The incentive is simply that of better rates of pay: instead of being beholden to a large South African hake-trawl company that will harvest, process and market the fish, the small hake-trawl quota holder receives better payment from the Spanish.”

In 2007 80% of local hake was exported to Spain. The ISS report accused the Spaniards—who are notorious for overfishing—of not declaring all their catch. The Spaniards receive EU subsidies to keep their vessels operating, even if doing so is ecologically unsustainable.

Martinez-Martinez told the M&G that his involvement with Offshore had ended on July 31. “I do not see why there’s a big fuss about Spanish interests in South Africa’s fishing. It is like a German company investing in the mines,” he said.

Calling paper quotas a “political term”, and that “politicians should comment on that”. Since his conviction for overfishing he had rectified his ways, he said. “I am not overfishing any more.”

Offshore’s director, Lester Peteni, did not respond to several attempts to contact him.

The ISS report could be the last nail in the coffin for joint ventures: MCM is currently reviewing its fishing quotas, aiming to stamp out paper quotas entirely.

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