Cape Town - Emerging from an era marked by land dispossession and the exclusion of a large portion of the population from benefiting from commercial fishing, the government recognises the rights of all its citizens to participate in all aspects of the fishing sector – be it for recreational, subsistence or commercial purposes.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has made significant progress in transforming fishing and providing the chance to trade for small fishing communities.
Recent reports which tell us that about 12 million South Africans do not have enough food have been hard for the nation to swallow. But our government has enshrined the right to access to sufficient food and water in our constitution, and is speeding up measures to protect this right for those living in poor fishing communities.
We have acknowledged that marine fishing is important to coastal communities in creating jobs – R434 million of our budget has been located in the fisheries sector and we intend to see that some of this translates into our electoral mandate: a better life for all.
Industry studies of other countries have shown that this is possible – in the Tanga region of Tanzania it has been found that more than 70 percent of males are involved in fishing and that 90 percent of their fish is sold.
To the South African economy, fishing contributes about R6 billion. Its commercial sector employs about 27 000 people and it contributes 0.5 percent to the gross domestic product – accounting for about 2 percent of the GDP in the Western Cape. The Western Cape has the highest concentration of subsistence fishers. Communities in the coastal regions of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape make up the bulk of the country’s rural subsistence farmers.
The department recently published the 2013 General Policy on the Allocation and Management of Fishing Rights and the 2013 Fishery Specific Policies for demersal shark, hake handline, KZN prawn trawl, oyster, squid, traditional linefish, tuna pole-line and white mussel for general information.
They outline the changes in law that govern fishing rights in communities and the harvesting of certain fish species. Both policies are informed by the National Development Plan, the Integrated Growth and Development Plan for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the New Growth Path, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme.
The Fishing Rights Allocation Process aims to transform the fishing industry by making it possible for small-scale fishers to take part in fisheries sectors for commercial purposes. The Small-Scale Fisheries Policy will boost subsistence fishers by giving them formal recognition and legal protection through a rights-based allocation system. Subsistence fishers depend on fishing for food and income. They suffered loss through land dispossessions and were prohibited from fishing in certain areas.
The policy is a shift from the old system of allocating individual transfer quotas that did not recognise collectives or communities and determined where and how much they could fish. The quota system also made fishing for subsistence in certain zones illegal. This hurt communities that depended on fishing.
This policy allows small-scale fishers to form collective legal entities to apply for fishing rights. This allows them to fish in exclusive zones where they can harvest different species of marine resources with little interference from commercial ventures. Through this policy the government encourages the wholesale participation of formerly disadvantaged groups as well as women, disabled people and the youth to look at fishing as a career.
The rights allocation also aims to maintain an ecologically sound system that makes allowances to manage scarce or depleted fish species and other marine life. The poaching of abalone and rock lobster remains a problem. The department has, however, put strategies in place to rebuild declining stocks of hake, abalone and rock lobster.
The total-allowance catch system is one of the ways we are dealing with overfishing and managing resources. The system sets standards and restrictions on the number of fishing vessels for a particular area, the number of crew and the number of days they are allowed to fish. Catch limits are also in place for species of fish that are rare or whose stock has become depleted.
We recognise the role that small-scale fishers play in forming an inclusive and integrated rural economy. Points are allocated to applicants who have empowered employees through ownership schemes when they are able to demonstrate that the employees get real benefits in terms of dividends or joint management.
The National Development Plan has also pegged this sector as important in its vision for an inclusive, integrated rural economy.
It will be a requirement that applicants be directly involved in at least one element of the value chain of the fishery; other applicants will have to be personally involved in the harvesting of marine resources. Applicants are encouraged to land or process fish in harbours and fishing communities that are economically depressed to bring about employment opportunities.
The department also recognises the need for incentives to stimulate job creation in the fisheries sector. In subsistence fishing communities these traditionally included net-making, boat building and putting together bait for additional income and the creation of more employment opportunities.
We support the creation of permanent and seasonal employment over contract employment and encourage the training of workers through learnership programmes.
The department intends to ring-fence a certain percentage of fishing rights allocation quotas for youth-owned companies.
By the end of 2014 we plan to support more than the current five fish farms that are enjoying government’s helping hand.
* Tina Joemat-Petersson is the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.