Cape Town-140223-Tina Joemat-Petterssen with fisherfolk in Kalk Bay. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

FISHERMEN who lost their traditional linefish rights at the end of last year would be allowed to continue fishing until the end of April, Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced yesterday.

She said at a briefing in Kalk Bay there there had been “significant unhappiness” regarding the linefish rights allocations.

“There do seem to be legitimate concerns either relating to poor administration of the applications, or questionable judgements by the delegated officials...I do want to deal with these questions of propriety before I can consider any appeals that may be lodged,” she said.

She therefore extended the period allowing traditional line fishermen to be exempt from the regulations until April 30. The exemption means they can continue to fish although the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has not renewed their fishing rights. Their long-term rights expired at the end of December. All those who were in possession of rights in December will be allowed to fish until the end of April, pending the appeal process.

The fisheries department allocates rights, while the minister decides on appeals. She said the fisheries department would also embark on a “listening exercise and communications campaign” to allow those with grounds to appeal to speak to the department directly before the new cut-off date for appeals.

In the traditional linefish sector, there had been 1 566 applications but only 215 could be approved, she said.

Joemat-Pettersson said she had appointed the law firm Harris, Nupen, Molebatsi Attorneys to advise her on the appeals process.

“They will undertake an urgent, independent audit of the rights allocation process to ensure it is compliant with all relevant policies and legislation.”

Halton Cheadle would would be part of the legal team. She said if the legal team found errors, these would be corrected.

She was aware of the fishing heritage of Kalk Bay. That the number of Kalk Bay boats with fishing rights had been reduced significantly indicated that there was “something seriously wrong”.

She spoke to fishermen who had gathered outside the venue to complain about their problems. However, some of the fishermen said it was “too little, too late”.

Kalk Bay crewman Joao Simoes said he would be able to tell his wife that he could put food on the table for the next two months, “but after that, I don’t know”.

Pedro Garcia, chair of the SA United Fishing Front, said the legal process was “an absolute waste of time”. Even if the lawyers found errors in the fishing rights allocations, they could do nothing about it, nor could the minister, as a right that had been allocated could not be withdrawn.

“Why is the department listening only now, where the process has been completed?” Garcia said.

l The SA Commercial Linefish Association goes to the Western Cape High Court today seek an urgent interdict to allow traditional line fishermen, who had rights up to December, to continue fishing until the completion of a judicial review of the allocation process.