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Small-scale fishing draft ‘bucks vision’

Donwald Pressly

THE CABINET is expected to give the green light to a draft small-scale fishing policy that has been the subject of debate for three years, but opponents believe it contradicts the long-term National Development Plan (NDP) forged by Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and the National Planning Commission.

Cape Town Peter Tomas a fisherman at st Helena near Saldanha Bay. Picture Mxolisi Madela/Melanie P. Credit: INLSA

The draft seeks to introduce a community-based approach to rights allocation, instead of the individual approach of the past. The idea is to create legal entities or co-operatives that would manage the system of small-scale fishing.

While the NDP identifies fisheries as a strategic economic sector with growth potential, especially in the area of small enterprise development, the draft policy places the emphasis on extending the net for small-scale fishers. The draft, which was put to the portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries 18 months ago, wishes to include child-headed households and women in particular.

The NDP notes that 27 000 people are employed by well-regulated commercial fishing concerns and that the industry is already transformed and black empowered.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson was scheduled to deliver her budget vote this afternoon, but the cabinet was expected to give the policy the green light this morning. She believes the emphasis should fall on the small-scale fishing industry to alleviate poverty.

In terms of the draft policy, preferential access will be given to fishing communities that traditionally depended “on a marine living resource” for their livelihood, but the minister would be given significant powers to determine how rights would be granted. It would give “due regard to promoting the interests of women, the disabled and child-headed households”.

Licences would be granted while ensuring the integrity of marine ecosystems and the sustainability of the resources. The draft policy emphasises the point that “authority to grant rights rests with the minister”.

The draft emphasises that there will be “a community-based approach to rights allocation”. It notes that a main pillar of the policy is to adopt a “multi-species approach to allocating rights to small-scale fishing communities”.

Shaheen Moolla, the chief executive of marine research company Feike, said the NDP recognised that small-scale fishing operations were low cost, but fished for high value stocks. But it opposed the accommodation of new entrants or additional quota holders as this would, it argued, increase the threat to sustainability.

Moolla said the NDP “unequivocally favours the allocation of fewer fishing rights of greater value rather than more fishing rights of lesser value”, which appeared to be the aim of the draft policy.

The NDP also argued that small-scale fishing could not be viewed as the solution to unemployment and poverty. “The solution is, rather, to support large-scale industrial fishing and these sectors offer better salaries and conditions of employment,” he argued.

Moolla said the NDP stated that jobs would be cut if more small-scale fishing rights were allocating as opposed to developing industrial fisheries.

It was inexplicable that the department continued on a course that was directly contradicted by the NDP Vision 2030 “and its finding and analyses”, argued Moolla.

DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen agreed with Moolla. “The NDP states that unrealistic expectations have been created by promising communities fishing rights. Short-term political expedience will backfire in the long run.”

If government departments such as fisheries had already elected to ignore Manuel’s plan, said Van Dalen, “we can rest assured that this rather grand vision for 2030 will never be more than a fancy document”.

The minister has pledged to supply fishing vessels to communities and it is proposed that subsidies for storage as well as marketing be considered to assist small-scale fishers.

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