A welcome change to marine environment law

Loss and waste was inherent in the ‘catch it or lose it’ fishing quotas of marine environment law. Fishing health and safety culture also needs a change.

The Department of Environmental Affairs issues annual quotas based on a biomass indicator, known as total allowable catch, TAC. This is the pool from which operators in the fishing industry are allocated quotas per season, writes Rudy Maritz.

Within the TAC there are set limits for different species of fish per period, usually February to September, fishing season. The break, November to January, is spawning seasons to allow the recovery of the resource.

Marine environment ‘push’ strategy

Common business practice in marine environment management is a ‘push’ strategy. Factory A is awarded 110 000 tons for the eight month season on a ‘catch it or lose it’ basis. Factory B is awarded 50 000 tons, and so on.

June to August is normally associated with low pressure systems and high swells. Some weeks are lost to production, raising pressure to catch more in good weather.

Factory A may well catch their quota of fish by end September and then start ‘buying in’ fish from Factory B. Canned fish could stand in the warehouse up to two years before it is distributed and sold, depending on the market.

Marine environment ‘pull’ strategy

Now consider hypothetical factory C. They had taken sheq seriously for 20 years and are certified to ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS 1800 and social responsibility programmes.

They look at the market and forecast demand a year or two in advance, based on a variety of factors such as the supply and pricing of rival products like poultry and soya.

They budget to produce 15 million cases of canned fish, based on a yield of two tons of raw fish to one ton of product, needing 137.5 ton of raw fish.

Running at a through-put of 20 tons per eight hour shift it would take them 55 hours in processing time, adequate time to perform daily safety functions and health and safety training and management, avoiding crisis management and risk-prone practices.

Production culture difference

The examples illustrate a culture difference between the market pulling production, and resources pushing production.

Company A assumes a lack of resources and growing market share, and build up stock at the cost of safety and the environment. However, company C supplies market needs and leave the ‘reserve’ resource in the ocean to recover and to catch next season.

These scenarios expose the loss inherent in the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. A factory could ‘lose’ its allocation of catch, and the next year the ‘loss’ is allocated to emerging fishermen. This policy has resulted in a marine environment push culture.

Reviewing of the state policy to allocate fixed percentages to factories, will improve the resource and facilitate the pull culture. Draft legislation allowing catch allocations to small-scale fishing communities could be completed soon, Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said.

The Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill aims to give effect to government’s small-scale fisheries policy, which were excluded from the long-term rights allocation process.

They would sell through co-operatives, get financial support, processing facilities, and other support measures.

Co-operatives are not allowed to sell the rights or quotas allocated to them. If a community wants to dispose of them, the quotas revert back to the state.

A culture of health and safety lies

If the marine environment law and business management pproach is worth changing, so is the health and safety management approach.

The old and mundane slogan of ‘Safety First’ remains a topic at many toolbox talks, but most employers actually mean ‘As soon as the work is done, safety becomes our priority’. Workers know and understand the real priorities, and act on those, not on slogans.

In the fast-moving consumable goods sector, early morning ‘safety’ meetings are often interrupted by production order and even threats of dismissal if targets are not met.

Employees perform their own job risk assessments to choose between exposure to dismissal or injury. Visualising the UIF queue is the deciding factor. Employers say they want safe behaviour, but act differently.

Changing this culture of lies would be difficult. Perhaps improved environmental practices would drive our entire business and social ethic in the right direction.

• Rudy Maritz is a health and safety consultant.

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