Fishing rights process fails, leaving tuna rod…
There is growing concern in the South African fisheries sector about the outcome of the Fishing Rights Allocation Process (Frap) and the conclusion of the small-scale fisheries process for the Western Cape, which includes the majority of country’s fish stocks. Frap’s appeals process has already been extended after many traditional fishers were left out of the initial process when their claims were denied.
South Africa is blessed with rich waters. Currents and prevailing winds stir up nutrients from the seabed and support a multitude of species. Phytoplankton bloom and support an ecosystem with sardines, squid, horse mackerel, anchovies, hake, tuna, sharks and others.
To protect this treasure trove from overfishing, scientists determine how much fish can be caught while leaving enough fish to keep the stock healthy (or more often, recover from past overfishing). This amount is called the “maximum sustainable yield” for each fishing sector and the minister responsible for fisheries sets a limit on the amount of fish that can be caught in a given year. This maximum can be expressed in terms of mass called “total allowable catch” (TAC) or in units of the number of boats or the amount of gear that can be used in an area or “total allowable effort” (TAE).
The allocation of fishing rights involves the development of a policy and the division of shares of the TAC or TAE of a particular area and the distribution of these shares to worthy applicants. Needless to say, these rights are very valuable and from the start, concerns were raised about the potential for politicizing the process.
Through previous freedom of information requests, the DA obtained minutes detailing how the Luthuli House met to appoint executives to various positions. There is strong evidence to support the belief that fishing rights are given the same attention and manipulation. A brief search for WikiLeaks “Fishrot Files” gives ample evidence of the background to collusion and manipulation in South Africa.
Some members of the fishing community are concerned that the allocation process could be open to manipulation and that instead of being transparent and independently verified, individuals could be identified for preference long before the process is complete. undertaken.
In previous rounds of applications for fishing rights in the West Coast lobster sector (kreef or crayfish), Fisheries simply refused to consider granting lobster fishing rights to anyone who did not hold kreef prior rights and had another right to fish. The reason given was that they were trying to stop the same “old boys club” from getting rights.
There is no political imperative that speaks to this specific notion and while the intention to make the process more inclusive is to be welcomed, the method is flawed. Substantial kreef the rights went to participants as far from the coast as Boksburg. It’s hard to imagine how a Boksburg-based entity is preferred to our traditional inshore fishermen.
In this series of fishing rights, it seems that emphasis has been placed on a few fallacious criteria. A particularly confusing test used was whether or not the plaintiff had paid dividends while holding a right.
In many fishing companies, the payment of dividends is almost unknown. Many companies are small family businesses that own boats. Every year a commercial fishing vessel must undergo a rigorous safety survey by the South African Maritime Safety Authority and depending on the type of hull, a vessel must be dry-docked to inspect and if necessary repair the hull. It’s a costly business and that means the company has to plan for all those repairs. This means directors must ensure that the money stays in the bank and therefore cannot be paid out as dividends.
The really nasty part of making dividend payments a watershed decision for many fishing companies is that they never should have paid them in the last 15 or so years since longline fishing rights for sardines, anchovy and hake were allocated. Previous policies never required the payment of dividends, and companies could not know they would have to pay them. The new policy and rating are a retroactive imposition of an administrative policy. It is patently unfair.
Not all bad decisions in the allocation of fishing rights should be interpreted as manipulation. Some are simply due to the inability of fisheries officials to implement their own policy.
In recent allocations of fishing rights, officials have been responsible for allocating rights in the pole-and-line tuna sector. These fishermen mainly catch longfin tuna with a rod and a small piece of line with a hook on the end.
Fishing rights allocation policies require fisheries officials involved in allocations to be on the lookout for claimants who have not actually used their rights and made no investment. Not using a right would include not having taken a fishing right in a given year.
Nearly 50 rightsholders were excluded and many may not have taken out licenses because they were repairing or replacing their boats in a given year. So if a fisherman was not fishing because he was busy refinishing hundreds of thousands of rand, then he was potentially considered a ‘paper quota’ risk.
The sudden withdrawal of some of South Africa’s biggest tuna fishing companies is a blow for the fishermen affected, but it’s a potential boon for other countries. Tuna is highly migratory and there are international bodies that aim to conserve tuna by regulating the amount of tuna a country can catch.
South Africa shares its longfin of the South Atlantic with countries like Namibia and Brazil. If our annual catch falls below a certain level, competing countries will start to argue that South Africa is not entitled to its national allocation. This scenario is far but not beyond the realm of possibility if things continue on the current trajectory.
Fisheries will respond to all of this that those who have not succeeded can simply appeal to. Unfortunately, the initial process already excluded about 50 former tuna fishing rights holders and provided only 46 rights available for appeal. These 46 are supposed to provide for everyone who wants to appeal and not just those who have been excluded. To simply suggest that these excluded fishers appeal rings hollow.
The fishery has also refused requests from industry associations to be allowed to continue fishing pending the conclusion of the appeal process. Officials argued that an exemption would not be possible because there would not be enough fish, but we must bear in mind that there are 46 pole and line tuna rights inactive during the process. call. At least 46 boats could fish while waiting for calls. This was allowed in previous allocations as early as the early 2000s.
Other examples include a boat owner in Kalk Bay who was denied an entitlement because he could not attach a copy of his tax clearance certificate and could only receive a text message from SARS on time. Fishing argued that this constituted “a non-disclosure” and that the boat is now moored while its crew go hungry.
So what should have been done? The policies allowed for a provisional allocation where proposed allocations are announced and those affected are given an opportunity to comment. This has been done in previous allocations and is allowed by policy. Once a right is assigned, it is very difficult for the fishery to take it away, and it can only really be overturned in court. Had this been done, Fisheries would also have an idea of how much should be set aside for appeals.
Minister Barbara Creecy finds herself in an unenviable position where the outcome could force her to take her own ministry to court as she did in the Western Cape craft sector. Small-scale fishing in the Western Cape remains in a state of stagnation as the new process has yet to kick off.
The Minister has launched a call for nominations for the statutory ‘Advisory Advisory Forum’ which is supposed to help her on fisheries issues, but has yet to make any nominations. The National Development Plan urges that new fisheries be developed, but there remains an insistence on a formal moratorium on new fisheries.
Frap has deprived many traditional fishermen of their livelihoods and, if past litigation is any indication, the fishery will waste hundreds of thousands of rands in unnecessary litigation to sit on the court’s doorstep. In the meantime, those who are being denied fishing opportunities should hope that reason prevails and that the minister acts in the best interests of the fishing industry. DM