Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has set aside the fishing rights allocation process for last year, to the industry's relief. Photo: Sapa

Johannesburg - The fishing industry gave kudos to Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson for setting aside the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP). But it warned that this was not the end of the sector’s rights allocations problems.

Joemat-Pettersson announced yesterday that the entire FRAP2013 process was being set aside, after she was given legal advice that it would be impossible to rectify any shortcomings involved in the process.

About eight fishing sectors would be affected by this including KwaZulu-Natal prawn trawl, tuna pole, hake hand-line, squid, demersal shark, traditional line-fish, white mussels and oysters.

In a statement released yesterday, Joemat-Pettersson said the audit report compiled by HNM Attorneys had established, despite many legal challenges faced by her department, there was no evidence that the process had been deliberately manipulated or had been corrupt.

Her department also believed that it would be impossible for it to deal with all the legal challenges surrounding the allocation rights issue. “Such legal challenges would put the entire FRAP2013 process and outcome at risk,” she said.

To avoid this, Joemat-Pettersson has set aside the entire FRAP2013, including all decisions and outcomes. “I expect the new process to be expedited so that the situation can be normalised as soon as possible,” she said.

Pending the new process, the department said those who were allocated rights in terms of FRAP2013 might continue to exercise these rights, while former rights holders who lost out in last year’s allocation process, could apply for an exemption.

The industry said this was the right move and that Joemat-Pettersson had been pushed by the increasing discontent among fishing bodies.

Other voices said although the department was moving in the right direction, the chaotic status quo would remain.

“The next round will be impossible for the government to allocate fishing rights next year because the department was already running out of time,” Shaheen Moolla, the managing director at natural resource management advisor Feike, said.

He said it also appeared that some of the essential policy criteria did not find its way into the assessment process or was inconsistently applied across all sectors.

Moola said the basis of this problem was that the department had failed to properly prepare for last year’s rights allocation process in 2011.

“I had previously said that a lawful and a fair process would be impossible, but my advice was ignored,” he said.

He said should FRAP2013 be continued, it would have had a negative impact on the economy of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

“Without the right allocating fishing process in these eight fishing sectors, we are seeing chaos that has been reigning supreme in the fishing industry since January. In our line-fish industry we have seen a high instance of illegal fishing taking place.”

Moolla said what compounded this chaotic process further was that South Africa was supposed to be preparing for the next round of rights allocation next year.

The only possible solution, Moolla suggested, was for the government to immediately place qualified and skilled people to carry out compliance duties. “Another step would be stopping the policy of cadre deployment and immediately fix the rot in the department.”

Wally Croome, the chairman of the SA Commercial Linefish Association, said he was ecstatic with the decision because it proved what he had been saying – the process was littered with mistakes and there were major legal irregularities.

Croome commended the media and the public, saying they had helped put pressure on the fishing rights issue. “I believe justice has been done and what we have been trying to say all along has been vindicated.”

He added that the department should learn from the mistakes from the allocation process. “We would like the gates of communication to open. We are not working against the government.” - Business Report