Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

SOUTH Africa’s fishing patrol vessels must help in international tuna fish conservation activities by boarding and inspecting fishing ships on the high seas, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said on Monday.

She made the call on the sidelines of an international conference aimed at conserving the endangered Atlantic blue fin tuna and other marine species.

"We are in negotiations for the use of the ships. We are also requesting that every African state on the coast belongs to this conservation drive," she said.

Ms Joemat-Pettersson did not say if or when South Africa’s flotilla of seven fishing patrol and survey vessels would be operational after spending a year docked in Simon’s Town and being neglected. It is now under Nautic SA management.

Nautic SA CEO James Fisher said three of the four patrol vessels were operational again and were conducting inspection voyages, while the fourth should be operational in February.

However, the three survey vessels, which are larger and more sophisticated, still needed more work before they became fully operational.

"While the ships were in the SA Navy’s hands they lost their class certification and it has taken a lot of work to make them seaworthy again," he said.

In her address to the 23rd Regular Meeting for the Conservation of the Atlantic Tuna, Ms Joemat-Pettersson called for the body to tighten up on tuna catches.

She said this would include the implementation of the bluefin tuna documentation process, which records where a fish was caught and by whom and if it was within the quota limits.

The tougher measures would include the boarding of vessels on the high seas to inspect catches — which is not recognised in international law. But she also called for international quotas to be more equitable so that developing nations can gain full access to them and benefit economically.

"The situation is that large and developed nations still get the lion’s share of the quotas," Ms Joemat-Pettersson said.

According to nongovernmental organisation The Pew Charitable Trusts the high demand for tuna for sushi, tuna steaks and canned goods has led to massive overfishing. Catches exceeded quotas by 57% in 2008-11.