In a recent article by Donwald Pressly (“Small-scale fishing draft ‘bucks vision’”, Business Report, May 3), some critical choices and implications for the small-scale fisheries are brought to debate. The article leaves the impression that the National Development Plan (NDP) is adversarial to the small-scale fishing policy.

In particular, the article states that the NDP “opposed the accommodation of new entrants or additional quota holders as this would increase the threat to sustainability”. This conclusion skews the National Planning Commission’s perspective.

In chapter six of the draft plan, the NDP actually says: “For coastal areas, marine fisheries are an important sector for subsistence and employment. Subsistence fishers rely on marine resources as a basic source of food. They are largely dependent on low-cost resources that are important to the social fabric of their societies, and have a long history of dependency on these resources.

“There are about 29 000, concentrated on the east and south coasts. Small-scale and artisanal fishers have relatively small, low-cost operations, but often fish high-value resources. Industrial fisheries target large-scale harvesting of mainly offshore resources that are caught using expensive, hi-tech boats, gear and equipment. Large-scale industrial fisheries are small in number, but employ about 27 000 people, and their terms of employment are often better relative to other industries.

“Most fishing resources are optimally harvested or over-exploited. Accommodating new entrants by increasing the allowable catch of most resources is not viable. Two fundamental issues need to be resolved.

“The industry is relatively transformed for historically disadvantaged individuals and black economic empowerment in general, but those historically involved in fishing have frequently been ignored. The trend is to favour allocating many rights of small value, rather than fewer rights of substantial value. This increases the number of participants, but also decreases the average gain per participant and increases the difficulties of enforcement. It is fundamental that fishing rights are economically viable and not allocated in a way that threatens compliance. If sustainability is not maintained, the fishery collapses and everyone loses.

“Unrealistic expectations have been created by promises of rights. Natural resources are limited and probably already fully exploited or even over-exploited. Small-scale fisheries cannot be regarded as a way to boost employment. Industrial capital-intensive fisheries offer better salaries and better conditions of employment, and are more transformed than small-scale fisheries. Reducing the rights allocated to industrial fisheries to award them to small-scale operations simply cuts jobs.

“There is a serious need for research to determine the relative values of different sectors in terms of employment, salaries and conditions of service, and contributions to tax.”

The draft NDP recommends that, in order to expand non-agricultural activities in rural areas, the following, among others, must be done:

“Develop strategies for economic co-operation or association that give poor producers greater collective market power in value chains, create synergies and access to information, allowing them to achieve the minimum supply volumes required for (them to participate), negotiate improved levels of market access and/or better terms of participation.

“Encourage supermarkets to open up value chains by partnering with local producers in rural areas.

“Allocate economically viable fishing rights. Review fisheries policies to determine the best way to allocate rights to maximise employment.”

It is important to focus our dialogue on what will actually work to end poverty and to reduce inequality. Any serious analysis of both the NDP and the draft small-scale fishing policy should ask that question.

While the NDP argues strongly that we need to grow the economy and create jobs, we also argue that our country needs policies that promote social protection in a sustainable manner.

The recommendations in the national plan stand to increase the ability of the small-scale fishers to benefit more from the value chain in the industry. The point is made that marine fisheries are important for both subsistence and employment. Subsistence fishers rely on marine resources as a basic source of food. The point is made that “those historically involved in fishing have frequently been ignored”.

This is what needs to be tackled head on to ensure that those who have for generations created sustainable livelihoods from the sea are able to continue to do so. At the same time, we have to build a sustainable and viable industry and grow jobs. Surely both are possible? This is the dialogue that needs to happen to chart a new course.

The NDP highlights some critical issues and choices. It entrenches resource sustainability as paramount and cautions against measures that actually increase the allowable catch. It does, however, emphasise the need to find viable ways of bringing greater benefit to our traditional artisanal fishers, whose development is clearly far from adequate or viable. The small-scale fisheries policy is an attempt in this direction.

Our challenge is to ensure that the support systems for a viable small-scale industry is in place, including appropriate gear and technology, finance, training, rights and so forth. The National Planning Commission has also called for more research into the employment and development trade-offs.

At the surface it may appear that economics favour a large-scale corporate fishery, while socio-political considerations favour the small-scale fishery. One should look further into this.

Resource depletion results largely from over-fishing, which comes from inadequate policies and too large a fishing effort.

Our ability to catch exceeds the regeneration ability of the resource. The ability to catch is largely located in the large-scale fisheries with their sophisticated equipment. Small-scale fisheries are supposedly the unintended victim. More stringent policies and policing may have to be accompanied with technology limitations.

The choices are thus not merely about the economic merits of different fisheries. It is about a better natural resource condition that can sustain more for longer.

Professor Mohammed Karaan is the dean of agriculture at Stellenbosh University and a member of the National Planning Commission.