The 2013 fishing rights allocation process and its decisions and outcomes will be set aside, Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said. Photo: Kenneth Klemens

CApe Town - The 2013 fishing rights allocation process and its decisions and outcomes will be set aside, Fisheries Minister Tina

Joemat-Pettersson said on Thursday.

The move came after she recently received the results of an independent audit report she commissioned on the process.

She said the audit found that the process did not make sufficient use of legal advisors, which resulted in a number of potential weaknesses.

It also found that some essential policy criteria were not included in the assessment process or were inconsistently applied across all sectors.

“I have been advised that it will not be possible to rectify the shortcomings by way of individual appeals or to defend the allocations in court challenges, of which one has already been instituted and others expected,” she said.

“Such legal challenges would put the entire FRAP2013 process and outcomes at risk.”

She had directed that all requisite legal steps be initiated for the process to be set aside.

“I expect the new process to be expedited so that the situation can be normalised as soon as possible.”

On a positive note, the audit found no evidence that the process had deliberately been manipulated or was corrupt, she said.

Rights in various fishing sectors were previously assigned in 2005 and expired at the end of last year.

Many fishermen were unhappy with the latest fishing rights allocation process because their applications were unsuccessful.

The SA Commercial Line-fish Association (SACLA) subsequently took Joemat-Pettersson and her former acting deputy director general Desmond Stevens to court after only 115 previous rights holders were included among 215 new line fishing rights allocated.

The Western Cape High Court last month extended a two-month exemption it previously granted until there had been a full legal review of the 2013 line-fish rights allocation process.

This meant commercial line fishermen who were unsuccessful in their applications for new rights could continue fishing.

Parallel to proceedings in court, Joemat-Pettersson extended the appeals process until the end of last month and commissioned the independent audit.

She said on Thursday that the audit report was compiled following an “unusual” number of appeals and concerns expressed by fishing communities and in the media.

The audit involved an interrogation of the legislative and regulatory compliance of each step of the process.

It also examined a sample of the applications and allocations in each of the eight fishing sectors Ä KwaZulu-Natal prawn trawl, tuna pole, hake hand-line, squid, demersal shark, traditional line-fish, white mussels, and oysters.

Joemat-Pettersson said those allocated rights in the latest process could continue exercising them while former rights holders who lost out could apply for an exemption.

Interim arrangements would have due regard for limited resources and not impact on various recovery plans or total allowable catches, she said.

Fisheries spokesman Lionel Adendorf said an announcement would be made “soonest” on interim arrangements for both those with and without the rights.

He said the department was instructed to ensure that required legal and administrative processes were in place and took into account the recommendations of the audit report.

“It remains our commitment to ensure that this process is expedited to limit any further uncertainty in the industry.”