An article by Josh Cox that appeared in the Cape Time, Page 8 on March 13 2014

Letter to the Editor

The letter by Christian Adams et al  titled “A timely basket of changes” that appeared in the Cape Times on 13 March 2014 refers. Having previously worked with an NGO providing support to traditional fishing communities along the coastline of South Africa I was greatly encouraged to read this very balanced letter by representatives of Coastal Links South Africa, who are also fishers themselves.

There has been a great deal of media attention on what many have referred to as a “blunder” by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) at the beginning of this year with their decision to not renew some of the traditional linefish permits. While the media and the citizens of this country have every right to be critical of policies and processes enacted by our government, the dominant voice in the media has been rather misleading in this instance.

The first problem is that the name of the sector, “traditional linefish”, is in itself misleading, as it implies that all permit holders are in fact small-scale fishers who come from a strong family tradition and culture of fishing and rely on fishing as their primary source of income and means to put food on the table. This is not correct.

The sector should in fact be called the “commercial linefish” sector, to reflect the reality. Most of the linefish permit holders are simply businessmen, who fish when the fish are abundant but rely on other sources of income for their primary livelihood.

Yes, many of the people working on the linefish boats come from a tradition of fishing, but most of them are not the actual permit holders, and as such they earn a pittance and are often treated poorly. Some of the permit holders in this sector are indeed small-scale fishers, but they were forced to apply for a commercial licence back in 2005, on account of government’s failure to recognise the small-scale sector when rights were allocated. Very few small-scale fishers who applied were successful.

As explained in the letter by Adams and his colleagues, all of the fishers who are either forced to, or choose to leave the sector will be accommodated under the new small-scale fishing policy, as will the bona fide fishers who have worked on linefish boats. Linefish quota not reallocated to the linefish sector will be given to small-scale fishers, and so communities will not lose out, in fact they will gain on this one.

If we are to be critical of government, let us be critical of their lack of urgency in implementing the small-scale fishing policy. While the bureaucracy inches forward on approving the amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) -which is necessary for the small-scale fishing policy to be implemented – fishers in KwaZulu-Natal are forced to eke out an existence with permits that allow them to catch just four fish, and prohibit them from selling their catch.

Many fishers have indeed lost out in the short term with DAFF’s decision not to renew some of the linefish permits. Let us waste no time in implementing the small-scale fishing policy to ensure that their rights that were taken away with the promulgation of the MLRA in 1998 are fully restored.

Josh Cox is a former employee of Masifundise Development Trust, an NGO providing support to traditional fishing communities across South Africa


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