With the submission of comments on the proposed draft policy for the small-scale fisheries sector on 5 November 2010, things appear to have gone quiet from an industry point of view.

In actual fact this perceived silence could not be further from the truth. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has presented the original draft Policy at Nedlac level and the debate over the proposed policy is now being considered by representatives of business, labour and government. It would appear that in addition to this traditional Nedlac tri-partheid grouping the  voice of various community interests are also being considered.

After the Nedlac presentation, on 8 February 2011, DAFF representatives lead by the former acting DDG, Richard Seleke,  briefed the fisheries portfolio committee on the draft policy as well as on issues regarding the abalone experimental fisheries and the reopening of abalone fisheries. Unsurprisingly, one of the main comments received from the portfolio committee was the request that DAFF make public the comments submitted by interested and affected parties regarding the draft policy. This same request has been made by business and various other parties but to date DAFF has refused to provide access to the comments.

At the portfolio committee briefing concerns were also expressed about the viability of the policy in creating livelihoods for the various communities involved. The issue of community based rights as opposed to ITQ allocations was also vociferously discussed and DAFF was questioned whether the proposed community based rights holding entity approach was in fact the correct approach to take?

Concerns were also expressed about the concept of allocating rights to communities who would then be required to self manage and police access to the marine resources. One member of the portfolio committee went so far as to suggest that this appeared to present a clear conflict of interest and was an unreasonable burden to place on the community. The co-management approach was also debated, with members of the portfolio committee expressing their concern about the reduced roll of DAFF in the administration of the sector.  DAFF was reminded that the state remained ultimately responsible and that it fell on DAFF to ensure that all marine resources were sustainably utilized and that they were adequately protected.

Various newspaper reports have also considered the proposed small-scale sector policy.  Of particular interest was an article from from the Cape Argus on Wednesday 9 February 2011, reporting on the portfolio committee briefing in an article headed “Lawyers still trying to work out new fishing structures”.  

Richard Seleke was quoted as saying that the Department had more than 5000 people on its databases who would in all likelihood be eligible in terms of the new policy. The article suggested that the consultation process could be completed by the end of May although uncertainty regarding this has been expressed by almost all quarters including Mr. Seleke.

The article reported that DAFF had received “1000’s” of comments which were busy being consolidated and collated. Mr. Seleke reported that once the policy had been approved by Cabinet, “assuming this happened”, the policy would first be introduced in a few pilot areas possibly in June this year. Quite clearly the June timeframe is directly linked to the understanding that the Nedlac process will be completed in May. Indications are  that it is highly unlikely that the Nedlac process will be completed by the end of May or that the policy will be approved by June.

Mr. Deetlefs du Toit of the Democratic Alliance was quoted as stating that the briefing had been “a useless exercise” because DAFF had been unable to provide practical examples against which the draft policy could be tested. Mr. Du Toit’s comments suggested that the policy was high on rhetoric but light on factual issues regarding the actual practical application and implementation of the policy.

This seems to be a common opinion and there seems to be a rising voice of dissension from almost all quarters requesting a policy with more detail that can be properly considered and with clear delivery objectives.

From a legal perspective and as envisaged in the draft policy, there will be necessary amendments required to be made to the Marine Living Resources Act, which in turn will also have to be published for comment.  There is clearly much water to pass under the bridge before a final policy is effectively implemented.

Regardless of the detail of the Small Scale Policy and subsequent legislation, the real crux of this debate is about where will the sustainable marine resources come from.

A very simple calculation provides (sea)food for thought:

  • 5 000 fishers
  • Each fisher to get R500.00 per month (R6 000.00 per annum)
  • Total net proceeds required to be distributed from the community rights holding companies after all expenses and income tax = R30 million;
  • Therefore, the before tax turnover required (which does not make provision for expenses e.g. admin, salaries etc), is say about R42 million;
  • R42 million is about equal to what a “paper quota holder” would receive from:a)         a 16 800 ton Hake trawl quota at a price of R2,50 per kilo; or

            b)         a 420 ton West Coast Rock Lobster quota at a price of R100 per kilo.

Clearly, the introduction of “small scale fishing rights” is going to require a delicate balancing act from DAFF!

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