File photo: David Ritchie

Cape Town - Fishers who were refused line fishing rights can apply for exemptions pending the outcome of an appeals process, the fisheries department announced on Tuesday.

The decision follows a meeting between department officials and the Traditional Line Fish Associations of SA.

The associations were up in arms after many of their members were denied rights. The new fishing rights were allocated after their permits expired on December 31.

Of the previous 303 permit holders, only 115 were successful in acquiring the right to fish under the new allocation process.

Fishers earlier threatened civil disobedience over the process, which they claim was unfair. The majority of those granted rights were new entrants.

Following Monday's meeting with department officials, fishing associations agreed their members would apply for exemptions and appeal the decision to refuse them new rights.

“DAFF 1/8department of agriculture, fisheries and forestry 3/8 would assess the exemption applications on an expedited basis in order to ensure that deserving applicants would be able to go to sea as soon as possible,” fisheries deputy director general Desmond Stevens said.

Those qualifying for exemptions would have to conform to criteria, which included having fished for at least 300 days in the Cape Peninsula since 2007 and 120 days in other coastal areas across the country.

“Both DAFF and the associations have agreed that it was important that over and above the interim solution, consultations must continue throughout the appeals process in order to ensure the best outcome,” Stevens said.

All applicants, in the meantime, would be provided with letters stating why they were granted or denied fishing rights. -Sapa