Cape Town. 120404. Local Struisbaai fishermen maintain that using outdated boats is preventing the local fishing community from making a decent living. Reporter :Leila Salmodien. Pic: Jason Boud

The Afrikaans poet, Uys Krige, wrote: “Ken jy die see, Meneer, ken jy die see? / Hy lyk nou soos jou voorstoep blinkgeskuur / en kalm soos min dinge hier benee, / maar hy’s gevaarliker as vlam of vuur. / Dan sê jy nog, Meneer, die vis is duur…” (Do you know the sea, sir? How it looks as shiny as a polished stoep, and calmer than most things here, but it’s more dangerous than fire. And you wonder, sir, why the fish is so dear.)

This verse has come to mind a few times in recent weeks amid the vast unhappiness in the fishing community, after hundreds of fishermen’s fishing rights were not renewed.

As has been widely reported, only 215 fishermen were issued fishing allocations at the end of last year. Seven years ago, 455 long-term allocations were granted. Thus 240 fishermen stand to lose their income.

Various aspects of this decision by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ fisheries branch are highly disturbing – so much so that I have again asked the public protector to investigate the process by which the allocations were granted.

There are many aspects of this that cannot fail to raise questions. The most obvious of these is that hundreds of fishers’ permanent income is lost, along with the income of their crew (up to 10 men per boat).

On top of this is the fact that 100 of the 215 fishermen who have received rights are so-called “new” fishermen and it seems many of them do not even own boats.

Thirdly, the process by which the rights were allocated was not transparent and it is becoming more and more apparent that blatant cadre deployment has taken place.

Last but not least, the man who made this decision, acting deputy director-general Desmond Stevens, is not qualified for his position.

One aspect, however, that has received little if any media attention is the serious impact the decision is already having and will continue to have on the price of fish, especially snoek.

Snoek has a significant presence in the history of the Western Cape and the development of Cape Town; it is a historical, cultural and ecological characteristic of the region.

But most of all it is an economic one. It is the cheapest source of protein in the country.

Where a small, whole chicken costs between R40 and R50, a whole snoek (which has much more meat and a much higher nutritional value) costs around R30. It’s because of the affordability of snoek that it is a staple food of poor families in the province – particularly on the Cape Flats.

The drastic reduction of fishing concessions, as well as the awarding of rights to what I call “fake-fishers”, will reduce the daily supply of snoek in the province by an astronomical 50 tons.

This huge reduction will inevitably lead to a sharp rise in price and before long it will be an unaffordable delicacy. Not even a week after the new concessions were awarded, the price of snoek at the Hout Bay harbour almost tripled. Where a hawker, until the end of last year, paid about R15 for a fresh snoek, the price rose overnight to approximately R45.

Where a resident of Belhar, Bonteheuwel or Mitchells Plain used to pay R30 for a snoek, it will now cost in the vicinity of R90.

Suddenly snoek is in the same price range as rare fish and those that are obtained under much more difficult conditions, such as abalone, and the staple food of a large part of the Western Cape’s population becomes a delicacy accessible only to the higher income groups.

In its Economic Inclusion Policy, the DA says we need measures to correct the imbalances of the past.

The challenge, in the light of South Africa’s history of discrimination and inequality, is to try and achieve maximal economic inclusion as soon as possible.

It is precisely because of this that the DA’s top priority is improving the education system to create jobs through economic growth.

This can only happen if the archaic and universally unacceptable practice of economic exclusion is extinguished.

What is the decision of Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s department to deprive fishermen of their licences if not economic exclusion?

The holder of the fishing right is excluded, his entire crew is excluded, the hawkers at the ports are excluded and last but not least, the consumer draws the shortest straw.

The ANC in the Western Cape’s favourite accusation against the DA is that the DA does not care about the poor people in this province. Marius Fransman and Tony Ehrenreich will repeat this allegation over and over in their attempt to take over power.

The truth, however, is that it is the ANC that time and time again supports and implements policies and other decisions that harm poor communities.

In the Western Cape, the ANC has on several occasions opposed pro-poor policy proposals in the provincial parliament and at council level for their own cheap political gain.

Unless the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries urgently reviews its inadequate allocation of rights for fishers in the Western Cape and also the allocation of rights to undeserving candidates, the impact on poor communities will be devastating.

Large numbers of people who currently make a significant contribution to the province’s economy will be excluded. A vital source of food, that is part of the DNA of the Western Cape, will be too costly.

And the people who suffer the most will not be – as Tony Ehrenreich would want you to believe – the so-called “rich, white fishermen”, but the poor, brown community. We cannot allow it.

* Pieter van Dalen MP is the DA spokesman on fisheries

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers

Cape Argus