Tina Joemat Pettersson, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. (Photo: StockFile)
US court orders lobster poachers to pay South Africa USD 22.5mln
Thursday, June 20, 2013, 03:20 (GMT + 9)
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Tina Joemat Pettersson has welcomed a New York court decision to pay South Africa ZAR 294 million (USD 22.5 million) in compensation for the illegal harvesting of South African fish by a syndicate.
The US Court ordered that Arnold Bengis, then managing director of Hout Bay Fishing Industries (Pty) Ltd, his son David and Jeffrey Noll, who was the chairman and president of Icebrand Seafoods and Associated Sea Fisheries in Manhattan, pay the money to South Africa following unlawful harvesting of south and west coast rock lobster in South African waters over an extended period of time.
This is the largest restitution amount ever awarded under the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to import fish, wildlife or plants taken in violation of another country's laws, into the US.
In SA, Hout Bay Fishing underreported catches, bribed fisheries inspectors and submitted false information to the Department. They also exploited South African workers whom they employed without valid work permits to work for low wages in their processing factory.
In May 2001, Marine & Coastal Management, now the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, informed that a container of illegal harvested fish had been shipped from Hout Bay Fishing to New York. This was intercepted by US authorities who then ran their own investigation with extensive cooperation from MCM officials and the Scorpions.
After being charged in the US, the three men were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and were fined a total of USD 13.3 million. This followed the investigation by the Scorpions and the successful prosecution of the firm in South Africa in April 2002 for illegal fishing.
Hout Bay Fishing paid a fine of ZAR 12 million (USD 1.2 million) and two of its fishing vessels were forfeited to the State for overharvesting of south and west coast rock lobster between 1987 and 2001.
“This sets an important international precedent for over-harvesting of natural resources. It demonstrates the lengths and commitment of DAFF to pursue, no matter how long it takes, those who poach South Africa's natural resources, in this case since 2001, more than 12 years,” said Joemat-Pettersson.
And she added, “This sends out a message to all multinational companies and syndicates that we will not be deterred in our resolve to bring those who are involved in corruption to book.”
Desmond Stevens, the Acting Director General of the Fisheries Branch in the Department, said it is hoped that the money will be put into the Marine Living Resources Fund so it can be used to fight syndicates that are plundering the country’s natural resources.
By Natalia Real