The allocation of recent fishing rights are against the letter and spirit of the amended Marine Living Resources Act and the Small-scale Fisheries Policy.

In the 2015/16 Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP), the small-scale sector only received 28 of the 445 rights allocated to fishers. Only two small-scale fishers are due to receive Net fish rights, according to the proposed allocations released last week. In both cases, the overwhelming majority of rights went to the commercial sector.

Net fishing takes place in the near shore which is meant to be a preferential zone for small-scale fishers. The department is acting contrary to the amended MLRA and the small-scale fisheries policy.

How the resources are split, is an important part of the realisation of fishers’ socio-economic rights, because it will determine if the implementation of the policy will lead to fishers acquiring their socio-economic rights.

There is widespread concern that the same patterns may pertain when lobster rights are allocated in November.

The 2005 line fish allocation excluded the approximately 30 000 small-scale fishers and was found by a court of law (the Equality Court -2007), to be unjust and discriminatory.

Then, the allocations were done mainly on old apartheid lines with the majority being non-deserving beneficiaries. Many in this group were white, already resourced, had access to other sources of income and were not traditional fishers. Some were black professionals with no history of involvement in the industry. The sophisticated system developed at that time did not lead to transformation.

In 2005, 455 individuals, mainly boat owners, were awarded line fishing rights for a period of eight years. The fact that many were undeserving is not the only alarming fact. Nearly half of them either did not use their rights at all or did not use it in a productive manner. Many of the rights holders did not use people listed in a register drawn up by the Department of Fisheries. Where they were used, several were poorly treated and badly paid.

In the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process, there was some progress in the process. However, many previous beneficiaries went to court to appeal and there was an order for a settlement process. The Minister announced the outcome in May this year, and it completely marginalises the small-scale sector.

The Minister’s Final Decision is summarised as follows;

Of the 567 appeals considered and evaluated, the Minister granted rights to a total of 210 appellants as follows –
·         Zone A: 171 rights. A total of 316 rights have been granted in Zone A.
·         Zone B: 22 rights. A total of 64 rights have been granted in Zone B.
·         Zone C: 17 rights. A total of 45 rights have been granted in Zone C.

Of the 210 rights granted by the Minister,

•      24.18% of the successful existing right holder appellants in Zone A are Black;
•      31,82% of the successful existing right holder appellants in Zone B are Black; and
•      46.67% of the successful existing right holder appellants in Zone C are Black.
•      Of the successful new entrant appellants, 59% are Black.

Of the 425 traditional line fish granted under FRAP 2013 (inclusive of the appeals process), 58,5% or 249 traditional line fish rights have been allocated to Black fishers.

The picture the Minister gives does not represent progress though. Though there is some transformation based on race, the fact is that small-scale fishers, the ones most in need are excluded in the main. We have always been of the view that benefits should accrue to fishers who are most in need and not already empowered individuals, of whatever race or political persuasion.

The way the Fisheries Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) is continuing, promises that inshore resources will form part of the small-scale fisheries allocation are slipping away. The apportionment of fishing rights favours individual rights rather than a basket of rights. All the line fish permits are allocated to individual rights holders, with another empty promise that all abalone will be allocated to small-scale fishers.

DAFF earlier this year expressed the view that “there is no obligation to announce the splits between the sectors. There is no legally binding obligation.” (9 Feb 2016).

With the ‘basket’ of rights getting smaller and ‘business as usual’ with the individual rights it is clear that the fisheries department is paying lip service to development, a right to livelihood and food security.  The political will to implement real change in the fisheries rights allocation system will risk the sustainability of the resources and fuel illegal fishing.

The allocations currently being made will completely undermine the strides made with the adoption of the policy and the progress underway with the implementation process.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries must stop this process and grant allocations that realise the socio-economic rights of the small-scale sector.

The small-scale fisheries policy offers hope to struggling fishers in the sector. Many of those traditional fishers who now struggle for work on commercial fishing boats will qualify for rights in terms of the new dispensation. In addition, they will be part of collectives that are given access to training, equipment and markets. The small-scale fisheries policy is designed to significantly improve the lives of thousands of small-scale fishers. Benefits include: the formal recognition of small-scale fishing communities; a move to collective fishing rights, away from the individual quota system that excluded the majority; the demarcation of preferential fishing zones for small-scale fishers, where they will be able to harvest or catch multiple species throughout the year. The potential for sustainable income will improve. These zones will be out of bounds for big commercial fishing companies; improved and sustainable marine resource co-management, where communities themselves are given more responsibilities for managing marine resources.

Without adequate allocations being made the policy will not become a reality in the lives of poor fishers.

It is important that policies and practices are vigorously directed at alleviating poverty. At 0.7, South Africa has the highest gini-coefficient in the world. 10% of the population continues to earn more than 50% of the household income of the country, while the poorest 40% and the poorest 20% account for less than 7% and 1.5% respectively, of the household income. Farm and domestic workers can earn as little as R100 per day while some high level professionals can earn multiple thousands for a day’s work. In fishing communities, traditional fishers battle to eke out a modest living in order to support their families. When a society begins to accept this situation as normal and natural, then it has to question its morality and humanity.

Small-scale fishers must be allocated a basket of fish in preferential fishing zones that enables them to put food on the table and generate sustainable livelihoods.

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