Cape Town-110518. Peter Tomas a fisherman at st Helena near Saldanha Bay, went for fishing befor he go's to vote. Hundreds of voters had a long wait at a polling station near Saldanha Bay in Laingville in the local government elections due to a big turnout. Picture Mxolisi Madela/Melanie P

Cape town - There should be a “Sea Accident Fund” similar to the Road Accident Fund to compensate the families of fishermen who are lost at sea.

This was the suggestion from Lulu Johnson, chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, during the committee’s final day of public hearings into the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill on Wednesday.

Noting that a number of people testifying had referred to deaths at sea, Johnson said these happened “quite often” but no one appeared to be held responsible.

Suggesting a Sea Accident Fund, he said: “This must be something that the department must seriously look at - it can’t be business as usual.”

Proposed legislative changes to the 1998 Marine Living Resources Act involve the recognition for the first time of small-scale fishers and their organisation 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 declared by the minister.

During the first day on Tuesday, some speakers expressed concern about some aspects of the bill, including the possible non-constitutionality of forcing all small-scale fishers to belong to co-operatives. However, there was near-universal support for the amendments on Wednesday.

Dawie Phillips, representing fishers from Port Nolloth and Hondeklipbaai in the Northern Cape, said the old act had forced them to be “vis-vreters” (fish-eaters) like seals because selling their subsistence catches was illegal, and they supported the bill “100 percent”.

“It will make us regular and legal fishermen. Catching fish isn’t money, it’s selling fish that’s money. Co-operatives are not a strange thing for us, we’ve been doing it for generations.”

The setting of quotas, or total allowable catches (TACs), on the basis of only scientific recommendations was also questioned. But mathematician Professor Doug Butterworth of UCT said marine scientists understood that they needed to consider all information, including from fishers.

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Cape Argus