Masifundise Development Trust (Masifundise) and Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA) note with concern that the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment (DFFE) is finalising the development of a National Oceans Economy Master Plan. The Master Plan is consciously expanding on the developments of Operation Phakisa – seeking to reinvigorate the economy through the outright exploitation of the oceans. It is a strategic, long-term political document that is conceptually driven by people who have powerful commercial and industrial interests in the oceans. Small-scale fishing communities, whose lives and livelihoods will be directly impacted by it, will have an insignificant role in the outcomes of this master plan.

It is extremely problematic that SSF communities, organisations, and our constituencies were only informed of and included in the process of the development of this Master Plan two months prior to the deadline of its finalisation and adoption. This absurd short timeframe is confirmation of the little regard given to small scale fishing communities. Additionally, the small-scale fisheries sector has been clustered together with the industrial fisheries sector. This is further illustration of the lack of understanding of the unique features and role of small-scale fishing in local economic development.

The industrial maritime and fishery stakeholders have much stronger capacity and national organisations and will therefore have profound and powerful representation as well as a stronger voice in these processes. Coastal Links and all small-scale fishers are rights-holders, over and above being stakeholders, in the ocean space. The right of ‘rights holders’ can easily be undermined by the interests and relative power of other ‘stakeholders’ in a multi-stakeholder setting.

Finally, it is wholly inappropriate to undertake such engagements when the entire country is in COVID-19 lockdown level 4. While commercial fishery enterprises may indeed have the capacity and resources to engage, small scale fishing communities are not similarly enriched. Nor can we have proper democratic consultation and awareness raising during this time. Poor internet access, language difference and long distances between rural fishing communities are some factors that come to mind.

In this light Coastal Links and Masifundise will, in future, engage with this master plan when the time is right and in a manner that advances the real interests of small-scale fishing communities. We cannot legitimate a process that advances the ‘oceans’ or blue economy and thereby undermine the rights and livelihoods of fishing communities in the long term.

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