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Cape Town - An independent legal audit has found that the Fisheries Department’s controversial fishing rights allocation process was fatally flawed and would not stand up to a court challenge, Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced on Thursday.
As a result she intended to scrap the entire fishing rights allocation process of 2013 (FRAP 2013) which saw hundreds of small commercial fishermen lose their right to go to sea to earn a living.
“To pre-empt further legal challenges, I intend to set aside the entire FRAP 2013 process, including all decisions and outcomes. I have directed that the requisite legal steps be initiated for this to happen.”
This is the first time in South Africa’s history that an entire fishing rights allocation process will be scrapped.
This comes after an outcry when the fishing rights allocations were announced on December 31 and many fishermen found they had lost their rights.
In February the minister acknowledged there seemed to be “legitimate concerns relating to poor administration of the applications” and she appointed a law firm to undertake an urgent audit of the allocation process.
On Thursday, she said the audit had found that the Fisheries Department had not made sufficient use of its legal advisers, resulting in “a number of potentially fatal weaknesses”.
The department had not included certain essential policy criteria in the allocation process, and in some cases had applied these inconsistently.
The legal team had advised Joemat-Pettersson that these problems could not be put right through the appeals process, nor could the allocations be defended in court action - “one of which had already been instituted and others expected”.
Pending the new allocation decision, Joemat-Pettersson said those who had been allocated rights in the faulty process could continue to fish in the meantime, while those who had not got rights could apply for exemptions to allow them to fish.
The rights allocation affected eight fishing sectors including traditional line fish, tuna pole, hake handline and squid. The audit, which will be made public “shortly”, could find no evidence that the fishing rights allocation had been deliberately manipulated or had been corrupt.
The minister’s announcement comes after the SA Commercial Linefish Association, made up of small commercial fishermen, has already instituted court action against the minister and the department to have the rights allocation process reviewed and set aside.
Wally Croome, chairman of the group, said on Thursday they would continue. “It’s good news that the minister’s admitting it was wrong. There’s no way she would have gone to court against us. She did not do this out of the goodness of her heart, she was forced to. I hope the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has learnt its lesson,” Croome said.
Shaheen Moolla, fisheries management consultant and a legal adviser for the association, said the minister had not supplied answering papers to the association’s court action.
“She knew she could not go on oath and defend this process.”