ENRAGED fishermen from West Coast fishing communities who failed to win fishing rights in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ commercial fishing allocation are threatening to seek a court interdict to protect their livelihoods.
The department on Monday announced its allocations of rights for KwaZulu-Natal prawn trawling and for catches of demersal shark, squid, tuna (pole-line), hake (land-line), white mussel, traditional line-fish and oyster. These rights, which were originally allocated for periods ranging from two to eight years, all expired on December 31.
In the West Coast town of Yzerfontein, a group of about 100 excluded fishermen met Democratic Alliance MP Pieter van Dalen on Thursday to discuss what action to take.
Mr van Dalen said the fishermen had invested a lot in their vessels and believed they had done “everything right” in terms of using their quotas and embracing transformation in the industry, but still did not get any rights.
He estimated that about 5,000 fishermen along the West Coast alone were threatened with a loss of income as a result of the department’s decisions. Next week he plans to visit disgruntled fishermen in Port Elizabeth.
“Court action is imminent to contest the allocation process,” Mr van Dalen said. “It looks like the allocations were race based.”
He said he could not understand on what legal basis the department had decided to reserve some of the available rights.
However, the department’s statement on the allocations insisted that a rigorous and audited process had been undertaken.
Of the 3,490 applications for fishing rights received, 110 were for demersal shark, 530 for hake (hand-line), 81 for KwaZulu-Natal prawn trawl, 260 for oyster, 308 for squid, 1,556 for traditional line-fish, 329 for tuna (pole-line) and 306 for white mussel.
Of the 110 applicants for demersal shark rights, only four were awarded rights, with the decision on one of these reserved pending further investigation.
Of the 530 applications for commercial hake land-line rights, 84 individuals and three companies were successful, while 290 individuals and 151 companies were unsuccessful. Twenty rights were granted to current rights holder applicants and 67 to new entrants, and 11.3% of the available rights were reserved for appeals.
Of the 81 KwaZulu-Natal prawn-trawl applications, only five were successful, while only 54 of the applications for commercial oyster fishing were successful and 203 failed. Of the 54 oyster applications, 41 were current rights holder applicants and 13 new entrants, and 17% of the available rights were reserved for appeals.
With respect to traditional line fish, 215 applications succeeded while the number that failed was not yet available.
A total of 130 tuna pole-line rights were allocated and 178 applications were refused, while only six applications for white mussel fishing were granted and 300 refused. A total of 93 applicants for squid fishing were granted, all of them existing rights holders.
The process for allocating the rights to eight fishing sectors kicked off in April last year with a total of 3,490 applications being received, the department’s acting deputy director-general, Desmond Stevens, said in a statement.
“The delegated authority decided to exclude current rights holder applicants that have not taken out a permit for four and/or more years or caught less than 30 tonnes of tuna over the allocation period (2007-12) because they have failed to effectively utilise their fishing rights,” Mr Stevens said.
Applications that were improperly lodged, materially defective or false were excluded. Also excluded were applicants who “attempted to improperly influence the minister (Tina Joemat-Pettersson) or the delegated authority” and those who had not used the rights allocated to them in the past.
Weightings were given to achieve equity and support historically disadvantaged fishermen, to improve the use of fishing rights and facilitate the entry of new fishermen into the industry. Job creation and procurement, safety and working conditions, and vessels were other considerations taken into account.
In preparation for the allocations, the department consulted the industry and small-scale fisheries associations along the KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape coastlines.
An independent auditing firm was appointed to verify the process and the department created a “secure, robust and effective” database.
In addition, a qualified assessment panel was appointed to support the department.