Cape Town - Traditional line fishermen who failed to win renewed long-term fishing rights that came into effect on January 1 are celebrating a minor victory in their battle with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
On Tuesday, the department agreed that they could apply for exemptions to continue fishing, pending the outcome of their appeals against the refusal to grant them new rights.
The department has also agreed to expedite the processing of these exemption applications, “to ensure deserving applicants would be able to go to sea as soon as possible”.
This was the main outcome of a meeting yesterday between the department and the South African Commercial Linefish Association, which represents commercial line fishers and which is described by the department as “one of its key stakeholders”. The department has also agreed to make the score sheets for their failed applications available to the fishermen by Friday.
Long-term fishing rights in eight fishing sectors expired on New Year’s Eve. Hours before this, 188 former line-fishing rights holders heard from the department that their applications had been unsuccessful. This meant they had to tie up their vessels and left their crews without jobs.
Of the previous 303 rights holders, 115 were granted seven-year rights.
The exemption agreement was announced after a meeting between Desmond Stevens, the department’s acting deputy director-general responsible for fisheries, and Wally Croombe, chairman of the association.
Also present were fishermen from ports outside Cape Town and the leadership of the newly formed Traditional Khoisan Marine Hawkers Association.
The department and the commercial linefish association agreed that unsuccessful previous rights holders would be permitted to apply for exemptions that would allow them to fish while they appealed against the dismissal of their applications.
To gain an exemption, former rights holders based on the Cape Peninsula must prove they went to sea for at least 300 days between 2007 and 2012.
Those in other Western Cape and Eastern Cape ports have to prove they went to sea for 120 days in that period, while those from KwaZulu-Natal must prove 150 sea days.
When Croombe reported back to several hundred fishermen, crew members and hawkers at the Oceana Power Boat Club in Granger Bay, he was greeted with a huge round of applause.
But his report-back disintegrated into chaos when Croombe suggested that the hawkers association had “gate-crashed” and nearly derailed his meeting Stevens.
Hawkers association chairman Faldie Samuels grabbed the microphone and accused Croombe of racism and duplicity.
He said the linefish association needed to incorporate hawkers and crewmen as equals in entering discussions with the department.
“We are much more numerous and we represent the black economic empowerment in the industry. It is insulting that (Croombe) accuses us of gate-crashing,” he said, to cheers from some and jeers from others.
Celebrations at the Oceana club were short-lived for another reason: the major concern about the appeal process remained unresolved.
Marius van Wyk, who worked from Kalk Bay and had fished for 25 years when his application was denied, pointed to an obvious omission from the department’s announcement: as it stands, the department has officially set aside only nine rights for successful appeals, which means that 179 applicants would be left without any.
The Cape Argus raised this with Stevens at the department’s press briefing earlier in the day. While Stevens said the appeals panel would give a “sympathetic ear” to fishermen who felt rights were unduly denied them, he made no commitment to extend the number of rights available for appellants.