Government has allocated 15-year fishing rights to 62 small-scale fishing cooperatives, with a total membership of 3 850 declared fishers, in the Western Cape.
This marks the final province where these rights have been granted for the first time in South Africa’s history.
“This achievement signifies the end of the interim relief era and the formal inclusion of Western Cape fishing communities, whose livelihoods have been intertwined with fishing for centuries. Historically, these communities faced systematic exclusion due to past injustices, hindering their participation in fishing operations.
“From today, the fishing cooperatives will promote employment and economic development in fishing communities, as well as support food security, and decriminalise traditional fishing.
“The department is [aware] that much more needs to be done to support the sector’s growth and development, and we are very committed to this process,” Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, said on Wednesday.
She made these remarks during a virtual media briefing on the finalisation of the appeals on the verification of small-scale process and the allocation of small-scale fishing rights in the Western Cape.
In the lead-up to fishing rights allocation, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) worked with community-based organisations and fishing communities to register cooperatives and identify suitable species and fishing areas to be used by the cooperatives.
The department has also commenced with providing two-day training workshops aimed at registering cooperatives as community-based legal entities earmarked for the allocation of small-scale fishing rights.
The Minister said the department is still in the process of developing a sustainable and financially viable basket of species for the small-scale sector.
Some of the species that have been granted to date include commercial traditional line-fish species, West Coast Rock Lobster, Seaweed, bait species, abalone aquaculture ranching sites, net-fish species, white mussels, oysters and hake handline.
A few years ago, the DFFE conducted a survey to understand the challenges facing small-scale fishers in the Western Cape. This survey revealed a lack of access to markets, suitable infrastructure, and access to the broader fishing value chains.
“Consequently, the department developed a support strategy, which includes formalised agreements with the Department of Small Business Development and with one of the maritime academies.
“Many other partners, such as the National Development Agency, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) have committed their support to the small-scale fishing co-operatives of the Western Cape,” the Minister said.
The DFFE will appoint 62 mentors so each cooperative will have dedicated direct support for the next three years.
Before 2014, the fishing rights framework only acknowledged access rights in the recreational, commercial and subsistence sectors, thus marginalising many local fishing communities.
During this time, small-scale fishers were often deemed illegal fishers, as they were not authorised to participate in regulated fishing sectors.
In 2019, the Marine Living Resources Act was amended to include small-scale fishers and to recognise an individual as a small-scale fisher if that person is “a member of a small-scale fishing community engaged in fishing to meet food and basic livelihood needs, or directly involved in processing or marketing of fish”.
During the period between 2016 to 2019, the DFFE initiated a process to allocate of small-scale fishing rights, nationwide. Rights were finalised in the Northern Cape in 2018, and in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
In 2019, the department received a total of 8 646 applications from individual applicants seeking to be recognised as small-scale fishers in the Western Cape alone.
Only 29% of the applicants were allocated rights.
In 2020, as a result of several fishing communities submitting complaints against the verification process and its outcomes in the Western Cape, the Minister called for an audit inquiry into the findings of the verification process.
Based on audit findings, the Minister sought an order from the Western Cape High Court to review and set aside the verification process for the Western Cape and to remit the verification process to the department for reconsideration.
Working collaboratively with community-based organisations, the department redesigned a fair process on the verification of small-scale fishers, resulting in over 5 000 applications from 109 fishing communities in the Western Cape.
The Delegated Authority’s final list declared over 84% of applicants successful, a significant improvement from the 2019 process success rate of 29%.
Aggrieved applicants were again entitled to lodge an appeal against the decision taken by the Delegated Authority to refuse their application. The department worked closely with the communities to provide the necessary information, support and guidance to enable appellants to lodge their appeals in an administratively and legally sound manner.
“The department received a total of 461 appeals and I considered each of these appeals on its own merits. In my consideration of these appeals, I followed the principle that all applicants are successful unless they were unable to provide proof that they met all the required criteria as set out in the Small-Scale Regulations.
“I was also mindful of the unique circumstances of fishing communities and that the completion of application forms may have been a challenge for certain individuals. I am satisfied that the process was inclusive, addressed various historical imbalances, and therefore the outcome is fair and correct.
“Four hundred and thirty-one of these appeals were upheld and this translates into a success rate of 93%,” Creecy said.
The launch of the small-scale fisheries sector in the Western Cape coincides with the commencement of the West Coast Rock Lobster fishing season.