Allocations, a diminishing basket and limitations on customary rights the main sticking points

Small-scale fishers in the four coastal provinces are on a collision course with the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries over key issues relating to the implementation of the small-scale fisheries policy (SSFP).

Communities around the country are gearing up for action to ensure that the policy is comprehensively implemented in terms of law and to achieve social justice.

Fisher leaders are consulting with grassroots fishers around three major issues;

  • The basket of resources to be allocated under the SSFP; Most rights this year went to the commercial sector and the small-scale basket is diminishing. The is in violation of the Amended Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA)
  • The Government Gazette Notice of September 16 that seeks to limit the fishing rights under the SSFP to three years. Fishers are of the opinion that small-scale fishing is a customary right and that no time limit can be placed on customary rights.
  • The registration and verification process that is part of the implementation of the SSF policy. The initial lists have been controversial and are causing confusion in fishing communities. Coastal Links has called on fishers to appeal and see the process through to its logical conclusion. DAFF has emphasised that the lists are only provisional.

As far as the allocations are concerned, Masifundise and Coastal Links SA have called for West Coast Rock Lobster commercial allocations to be suspended until the SSF Policy comes into operation.

These issues are important to a community that has been severely marginalised over the years, and who had to take the government to court to access rights so that they can live sustainable lives and achieve social justice for themselves as a community.

Small-scale fishers under the banner of Coastal Links South Africa and in partnership with Masifundise Development Trust, met at the Fountains Hotel in Cape Town at the end of September, looking specifically at the implementation of the SSFP thus far.

Fishers are adamant that they have been marginalised during the apartheid years, and with the advent of democracy they had some hope for a better future, but it once again eluded them when the new democratic government adopted the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) in 1998.

The MLRA once again excluded small-scale fishers from gaining any rights to earn a living from the sea, instead giving rights only to commercial entities and individuals.

After the passing of the MLRA in 1998, fishers took the fight for sustainable livelihoods to the streets, parliament and the courts, and one fisher chained himself to the gates of parliament to make the case for his community.

In 2005 the Equality Court ruled that a Small-Scale Fisheries policy be formulated to legalise the sector.

This is a good policy which gives legal recognition to the small-sector for the first time and promotes communal rights and empowerment. The current obstacles relate to the way the policy is being implemented.

At the September national workshop, fishers listed their final demands:

  1. Immediately stop all commercial West Coast Rock Lobster allocations until such time that fishing allocations are made for the small-scale fishing sector under the Small Scale Fisheries Policy.
  2. Immediately revoke all line-fish allocations, to ensure communal allocations to be made in the Northern-, Western- and Eastern Cape provinces.
  3. Immediately stop the victimisation, criminalisation and discrimination against small scale fishing communities by compliance officers.
  4. Immediately demarcate exclusive preferential zones inclusive of an immediate suspension of all reserves adjacent to fishing communities, not excluding Marine Protected Areas.
  5. An immediate withdrawal of ‘Government Gazette #40286, Notice 1067,-Duration of Small-Scale Fishing Rights- of 16 September 2016. Small scale fisheries rights are our customary practice and therefore no duration could be coupled to the practice of our custom.
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