At the heart of the recent WCRLA / Oceana Appeal Court judgment was the Equality Court order ordering the Minister to compile a small scale fisheries policy which would better take into account the rights of subsistence and small scale users of fishing resources in South Africa and in particular fisherman in coastal communities which have historically depended and relied on fishing to earn a living. In terms of an Equality Court order the Minister had undertaken to finalise such policy development process by publication in the Government Gazette by no later than the 31st July 2009.
Over a year later on the 3rd September 2010 a draft policy for the proposed Small Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa was published. The policy sets out the principles and objectives of the introduction of a new sector in the South African fishing industry and how the sector is intended to operate. The draft policy proposes the creation of areas within which small scale fishers may harvest marine resources for their benefit. The intention is that these areas be co-managed by the Department and community organisations which will be responsible for maintaining right holder lists and ensuring that the right holders comply with applicable permit conditions.
It is proposed that fishing rights will be granted to the community based entities, the aforesaid entities will then together with the Department determine how the right will be utilised to harvest the Marine Resources in their area. The Policy also touches on issues of processing and marketing with plans to assist local communities to develop their abilities in these areas.
The key issue for existing long term right holders arises around the demarcation of small scale fishing community areas. The policy proposes that certain areas along the coast will be demarcated as areas prioritised for small scale fishers. It is envisaged that restrictions on these areas may be required in order to protect the rights of the small scale fishers. Whether this translates to restrictions being imposed on recreational fishers or commercial right holders or both is not clear. No details are provided as to the location of these areas or the dimensions that these areas will assume with respect to distance from shore or depth.
What is apparent is that the creation of a small fishery sector may well impact on existing commercial fisheries to the extent that the commercial fisheries would be required to work hand in hand with the small scale fisheries sector or alternatively may be required to give up a portion of their fishing grounds in order to accommodate the small scale fisheries sector. No mention is made in the policy regarding issues touching on the division of the TAC or TAE for particular sectors but the policy does record that a “multiple species” approach will be adopted and that the species that the small scale fishers may target will be dependent on issues such as the availability of resources, the extent to which those resources can be sustainably exploited, consideration of current exploitation in terms of long term rights, the numbers of fishers within a community, the market value of the resource and the nature and extent of the area.
The intentions of the policy are well placed but clearly have potential ramifications on all commercial right holders.
Interested parties have until 16h00 on Friday 22 October to submit their written comments on the draft policy.
P. A. EDWARDS