Cape Town -
Commercial line fishermen who lost out when new long-term fishing rights were allocated at the end of last year have turned to the Western Cape High Court in an attempt to reverse that decision.
But last-minute talks are also under way in an attempt to resolve the matter “amicably”.
After urgent discussions in early January, an exemption was granted by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries allowing these unsuccessful rights applicants to continue fishing until February 28 or until the finalisation of their appeals, whichever occurred first.
An urgent application is on Thursday’s court roll for an order that this temporary exemption be extended until a full review of the line fish rights allocation process - called Frap 2013 - has been heard. This is unlikely before June.
The application is by the SA Commercial Line Fish Association. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson is first respondent and former acting deputy director-general in charge of fisheries Desmond Stevens is second respondent. Stevens was subsequently moved from the position.
The 215 line fishermen who were awarded new fishing rights under Frap 2013 - 115 of whom held rights under the previous allocation made in 2005 - are also named as respondents.
By Tuesday morning, no replying papers had been filed. However, Joemat-Pettersson’s spokeswoman, Palesa Mokomele, told the Cape Argus on Tuesday afternoon: “The parties are attempting to amicably resolve the matter and at this stage are in negotiations.”
The association argues that the rights allocation process is unlawful for a number of reasons. Its application is supported by an affidavit by Arnold Swart, the chairman of the affiliated Western Cape Commercial Line Fish Association.
In his affidavit, Swart said he had personally held a commercial line fish right for eight years.
As a critical part of Frap 2013, the department published a draft revised “general policy” and eight sector-specific policies, which included the traditional line fish sector. But this was national policy that had been developed, adopted, published and implemented without cabinet approval, as prescribed by the constitution, Swart argued.
Other alleged irregularities included:
- The notice and comment period for the draft policy gazetted for comment on May 14 last year was less than the statutory minimum 30 days.
- The public hearing process was irregular as there were no hearings on the West Coast, where a “substantial” number of line fishers lived and worked.
- Regular and consistent communication by the department, the minister and relevant officials had been “completely absent”.
He said the scoring system and the criteria for scoring applicants was “irrational”, and a number of association members had not received score sheets by February 14. “We are of the view that we have been provided with insufficient reasons, more specifically in respect of each and every individual member of the applicant who wished to appeal, in order to formulate a proper and adequate appeal.”