By Jackie Sunde

The Department of Environment and Operation Phakisa’s proposed new and extended Marine Protected Area (MPA) draft regulations fail to respect the rights of small-scale fishing communities.

The Department of Environment (DEA) has called for comments on 22 MPA Draft Regulations in terms of NEMPAA. Why are these draft regulations very important for Small-scale fishers and fishing communities?

Small-scale fishing communities are currently focusing on the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) verification for the Small-scale Fisheries Policy implementation and very few communities are focusing on the recently released MPA Draft Regulations.

Many people think that these proposed regulations only apply to off-shore MPAs. Yet these proposed regulations introduce a number of new inshore MPA restricted and controlled areas and will have a critical impact on many small-scale fishing communities up and down the coast.

They may restrict small-scale fishing activities and, in some cases, impact the cultural and customary rights of small-scale fishing communities.  DEA and DAFF have still not agreed how the SSF policy will be implemented in areas where there are MPAs.  Understanding the potential impact of these draft regulations and submitting comments on these regulations is very urgent for these communities, particularly those living in or directly adjacent to the proposed controlled or restricted areas.

In 2014 President Zuma launched Operation Phakisa, described as the vehicle that will “unlock the economic potential of South Africa’s Oceans”. The Marine Protection Services and Governance component of Phakisa aims to implement an overarching, integrated governance framework for sustainable growth of the ocean economy that will maximise socio-economic benefits while ensuring adequate ocean environmental protection within the next five years.

Key to government’s aim of trying to balance economic exploitation such as ocean mining, industrial aquaculture and fishing with conservation of the marine environment is the extension of South Africa’s Marine Protected Area Network.

In August 2014 the Department of Environment (DEA) began planning this extension together with selected partners in government and conservation agencies.   In February of this year, the DEA finally gazetted Draft Regulations for the declaration of 22 MPAs and invited interested parties to submit comments to the DEA by the 3 May 2016.

These draft regulations refer to several changes in existing MPAs, including the extension of some MPAs like that of the proposed iSimangaliso MPA, as well as the introduction of new controlled and regulated areas in some existing MPAs.

Several of the MPAs include new inshore coastal areas and hence will impact adjacent small-scale fishing communities very directly.  For example, the plan to combine the existing Maputaland MPA and St Lucia MPA and extend it southwards to include the Sokhulu community as well as proposing a very complex set of zonation arrangements will impact the 12 communities who live in and adjacent to this proposed area.

Most significantly, the planning for this proposed zonation was undertaken without the inclusion of the local communities.  It is only now, once the DEA has gazetted the proposal regulations that communities are invited to comment.  This runs contrary to the international agreements that South Africa has signed.

In terms of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), South Africa has committed to including indigenous peoples and local communities in the planning and management of MPAs.  This means they should be consulted from the start.  This is particularly so in areas where communities are in fact the land owners of the area and have the right to co-management of resources in these areas.

In contrast, DEA has held once off public meetings in certain areas, most of which were far from the local communities that will be impacted.  In addition, the zonation proposed is very complex and it is very difficult for local communities to understand the maps that they are attached to the draft regulations in a short space of time in a public meeting.

These proposed new regulations also impact the cultural rights of fishing communities. Contrary to the recent judgement in the Mthata High Court in the matter concerning the Dwesa-Cwebe communities, these draft regulations fail to make provision for the customary rights of communities living according to customary law within or adjacent to the MPAs.

This is of particular relevance to communities in the Eastern Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal.  In addition to the failure to comply with the requirements for participation and consultation in the planning processes and the inclusion of local ecological knowledge in these processes, the proposed draft regulations for some of the MPAs contain specific provisions that exclude SSF fishers, whilst accommodating commercial line fishers and recreational fishers.

This has implications for many SSF communities along the KZN coastline, particularly in the UThukela Banks MPA area near Nonoti, as well as on the south coast in the region of the Aliwal Shoal MPA where a new inshore area with a restricted and a controlled zone is proposed.

These proposed new MPAs and proposed new MPA zonation on existing MPAs will impact SSF fishers from Kosi Bay in the far north to the fishers in the Northern Cape near Hondeklip Baai who will be impacted by the Namaqua MPA and the Namaqua Fossil Forest MPA.

SSF fishers need to make their voices heard and ensure that the ocean is not grabbed from them just as their rights were about to be realised at last.

Jackie Sunde is a researcher and member of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), an international organisation working with small-scale fishing communities.

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