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Cape Town - Small-scale fishing communities are to be included as an intervening party in a main court application over fishing rights allocations, the Western Cape High Court ordered on Thursday.
The Masifundise Development Trust, said to represent these communities, argued their case before Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso.
The SA Commercial Line-fish Association (SACLA) had opposed the application to intervene in their legal battle against former fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and her former acting deputy director general Desmond Stevens.
SACLA launched the main application after only 115 previous rights holders were included among 215 new line fishing rights allocated last year.
In the previous allocation period, 450 rights were granted. All 215 fishermen are listed as respondents.
The Western Cape High Court last month extended a two-month exemption it previously granted to commercial line fishermen until there had been a full legal review of the 2013 line-fish rights allocation process.
Following the order, Joemat-Pettersson announced that the fishing rights allocation process and its decisions and outcomes would be set aside following the results of an independent audit report she commissioned on the process.
Masifundise still wanted to be included as an intervening party in the main application to make sure their interests were acknowledged by the court.
Masifundise is a non-profit trust founded in 1979 and represents previously disadvantaged and traditional fishing communities of the south and west coasts of the Western Cape, and coastal villages in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
On Thursday, advocate Michael Bishop, for Masifundise, argued there were only “so many fish in the sea”.
“Throughout the process of recognising rights, (small-scale) fishermen have constantly been stressing about where these fish are going to come from,” he said.
Small-scale fishers had not even been officially recognised until last month, when President Jacob Zuma signed the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill (MLRA).
While a court outcome in the main application might be beneficial for SACLA, it would likely be prejudicial to small-scale fishers, Bishop said.
The finalisation and implementation of a court order and rights process could also take a long time.
“If it takes a long time and existing and new rights holders can continue fishing, there will clearly be no more fish to be assigned to small-scale fishers.
“We want to ensure they get access to what has been promised in small-scale policy sooner rather than later.”
Advocate Jasper Tredoux, for SACLA, firstly argued that Masifundise director Mogamad Naseegh Jaffer did not have the authority nor a proper resolution to bring the application on behalf of fishing communities.
He then argued that small-scale fishers would not be prejudiced by the main application because the fishing rights allocation process had been scrapped and their sector would be recognised in new negotiations.
“At a later stage, the (fisheries) department will be compelled to consider all the sectors,” he argued.
But Traverso disagreed.
“I've just had a meeting with a parastatal. Since when do they consider the rights of everybody?” the judge asked.
She said she could not speculate on what the outcome of the main application would be. Her job was to ensure justice was done and people were allowed to exercise their rights.
Instructing attorneys for Bishop confirmed the application was granted in Masifundise's favour after discussion between the parties in Traverso's chambers.