Cape Town - The majority of traditional line fishermen in South Africa entered 2014 without the legal right to continue their operations. This comes after the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) denied their applications to have their rights renewed. Old rights expired at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Among them is a group of fishing boat owners in Kalk Bay who have accused the department of having “robbed” them, their employees and the hawkers (who act as middlemen between fishermen and consumers) of their jobs. The department’s deputy-director general for fisheries, Desmond Stevens, has defended the fishing rights allocation process.
“Instead of criticism, the department should be commended for having met the deadline of announcing the new rights (before December 31),” he said. “The application process was competitive. If applicants did not score adequately according to the predefined criteria, their applications were denied. There is an appeal process, and unsuccessful applicants have every right to challenge the decision.”
Arnie de Ross, 69, disagrees. He has been fishing off Kalk Bay since 1969. On New Year’s Eve, he found he and his son Kevin had their rights applications denied. Their boats had to be docked immediately and they would be breaking the law if they went on a fishing expedition.
“Fishing is my entire life. With the stroke of a pen the department has effectively retrenched me – fired me from my job without a pension and without a payout. Our family cannot survive if I cannot fish… I feel that my long history as a fisherman should count for something.”
Kevin de Ross, 47, speaks of the difficult phone calls he had to make to his eight crew members: “I could not wish them a happy new year, because I had to break the news that they no longer had jobs.”
Desmond Ball, 59, who started as a crew man on a Kalk Bay-based fishing boat as a teenager and now owns a fishing boat at the same harbour.
The last rights allocations were made in 2005. Of the 303 traditional linefish permit holders operating during 2013, only 115 were granted rights to continue fishing (and to reapply for permits) in the new year. Along with these 115 rights holders, 100 new entrants were granted rights.
This in particular has drawn criticism from established line fishermen and their representative body, the SA Commercial Linefish Association.
“Daff is being totally unrealistic by replacing rights holders with between 10 and 30 years’ experience with new entrants,” said the association’s chairman Wally Croome. “This could well have a knock-on effect to the productivity of the sector and possibly result in declining catches which will in turn have a dramatic impact on marketing dynamics.”
The association estimates that 1 504 fishers (rights holders and crew) will be left jobless as a result of being denied fishing rights.
“With an average investment of R400 000 per rights holder, a total of R75 million will be (compromised),” said Croome.
Unsuccessful applicants will have until the end of the month to appeal. At an emergency meeting scheduled for tomorrow, fishermen will decide whether to approach the Western Cape High Court for an urgent interdict against Daff’s decision to deny them fishing rights.