Cape Town-131015-Parliament Portfolio committee on agriculture holds public hearings on the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill (rm V454) Old Assembly. In pic is Henk Smith of the Legal Resources Centre (forground) and back left is Portfolio Committee Chairman, Lulu Johnson-Reporter-John Yeld-Photographer-Tracey Adams

Cape Town -

There may be consensus on the immorality of a system that gives one man a legal fishing quota while his brother has to poach to put food on the family’s table – but when it comes to the best alternative, there are vast differences of opinion.

This was apparent from a packed, and at times emotional, fisheries portfolio committee hearing in Parliament on Tuesday where proposed amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act were up for public discussion – and where political rhetoric and personal insults highlighted the deep ideological differences and conflicting views that still permeate South Africa’s fishing industry.

Proposed changes involve recognition for the first time of small-scale fishers and their organisations into communities and co-operatives as legal entities that can be awarded formal fishing rights for an as yet undefined “basket of species”. Such fishing communities may also be given exclusive rights in certain areas.

The previous category of subsistence fishers, who were not entitled to sell any of their catch, is dropped in the amendment bill.

Committee chairman Lulu Johnson said the process being discussed had its origins in the 1993 Reconstruction and Development Programme that required transformation in the fishing industry and the economic empowerment of those living in coastal towns who fished for a living. However, change had stalled in 2005.

“The time has arrived for them (coastal communities) to benefit,” Johnson said.

Jeremy Marillier, spokesman for fishing industry umbrella body FishSA, said deliberations with the department about the proposed amendments had “gone quite well”, but they still had some concerns. These included that the government’s initial estimate of the cost of implementing the new small-scale fishing policy had jumped from R424 million over five years to R576m without explanation, and no budget had been secured yet.

Henk Smith of the Legal Resources Centre said the bill was “very important” and that it was “no coincidence” that it was being introduced 100 years after the 1913 Land Acts that had restricted rights to both land and marine resources. This 1913 legacy was being addressed “in a new and profound way”, with subsistence fishing permits being replaced by both community and individual rights to marine resources.

Christiaan Adams, chairman of Coastal Links SA, said his organisation represented 100 coastal communities between Port Nolloth and Kosi Bay.

“Collective rights will work in South Africa because this is the manner we’ve been doing things since ages and ages ago – this is what our forefathers had been doing.”

But industry consultant Shaheen Moolla said

co-operative fisheries management in South Africa and in places like Vietnam had been a failure.

Cosatu regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich was applauded when he said: “Let’s take away from those who stole under apartheid and who want to continue owning it (fish stocks), and redistribute it back to the communities.”

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Cape Argus