Fisheries sector matters: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefing

Committee: NCOP Land and Mineral Resources

Chairperson: Ms A Qikani (Eastern Cape, ANC)

Date of Meeting: 24 May 2010

Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefed the Committee on issues in the fisheries sector. The briefing included discussion on the strategic positioning of fisheries within the Department, the Draft National Fisheries Plan, the Small-scale Fisheries Policy and the Fishing Closure Project.

The Committee's questions focused on why there were so many Department officials working in an “acting” capacity. Members asked if the definition of small-scale fisheries covered the definition of poaching, why the Department thought its own abalone farm would be more successful that other abalone farms that had collapsed, and what the Department was doing to assist and upgrade small-scale farmers. Members wanted a breakdown of the number of people who were given proper licenses. They wanted the Department to elaborate on the Draft National Fisheries Plan, commenting that it was too vague. The Committee asked for an organogram showing the staff capacity that the Department needed. They noted that a National Small-Scale Fisheries Summit was held in 2007, which led to a draft small-scale fisheries policy in May 2010. Members asked if the Department thought that issues captured in 2007 were still relevant for 2010 and what the implications were of the Fisheries Closure Project on fish stocks and on the community.

The Committee warned the Department that Members had received letters from communities asking and complaining about the granting of licenses. They did not know if the community was writing to the Committee because it was not receiving clear answers from the Department or any other place, and pointed out that the Committee was supposed to be the avenue of last resort. Members believed that if people had the capacity and capability to do something, the Department had to empower them.

Members adopted the Minutes of 20 April, and 4 and 13 May.



Minutes

Members’ opening remarks
The Chairperson stated that she was unhappy that the documents had only been given to the Members at the meeting, leaving them with too little time to read through the documents, which was not useful.

Mr G Mokgoro (Northern Cape, ANC) agreed with the Chairperson. Although he was pleased that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) was present, he agreed that it was not useful to receive documentation so late. He nonetheless hoped the meeting would be fruitful.

The Chairperson warned DAFF that this would be the last time that the Committee would hear representatives if Members had not been given the chance to study the documents sufficiently before the time set for the meeting.

Mr Peter Thabethe, Acting Director-General, DAFF, apologised to the Committee, saying that it was an issue that was being dealt with by the Department. DAFF was taking the matter very seriously and it would not happen again.

Fisheries sector matters: Briefing by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Mr Thabethe stated that the issues that were raised by the Committee concerning the fisheries sector were issues that were very important to the DAFF, that were also contained in the performance agreements that the DAFF signed with the Minister. The DAFF was also in the process of organising its structure to ensure that matters would flow properly.

Dr Motseki Hlatshwayo, Acting Deputy Director-General, DAFF, discussed the strategic positioning of fisheries within the DAFF. He stated that fisheries had enormous potential to provide the poor with more food, better nutrition and increased incomes. For many people, fish also provided a major source of livelihood. If targeted investment were made in South Africa, which would enable people to better manage fisheries and develop aquaculture, those benefits could be increased substantially. Due to the commercial approach to the rights allocation process, many small-scale fishers and disadvantaged communities were marginalised. There was a lack of development of small-scale fishers and rural coastal communities, due to an absence of national policies. The Minister developed a draft National Fisheries Plan that aimed to address the challenges.

The Draft National Fisheries Plan was a ten-point plan that looked at governance and institutional development, provision of technical and support services, aquaculture development, value-chain development and support, and improving capacity for enforcement and levels of compliance in the sector. It also looked at food safety and quality assurance, sustainable resource management and economic recovery of key fisheries, socio-economic development, transformation and promotion of women and youth, and broadening the fisheries resource base through research and exploring new fisheries.

DAFF then updated the Committee on the Small-scale Fisheries Policy. Fishing and coastal communities voiced concerns about their exclusion from the new fisheries dispensation introduced in the late 1990s, with the promulgation of the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA). They expressed their aspirations for the development of a Small-scale Fisheries Policy that recognised their rights to an equitable fisheries dispensation and sustainable livelihoods. The government was in discussions with stakeholders to develop a new policy to guide governance and management of small-scale fisheries. The process would ensure that traditional, subsistence and small-scale fishing communities could fully participate in policy development. In 2007, at a National Small-scale Fisheries Summit, a National Joint Task Team (NTT) was appointed to oversee the development of the draft Small-scale Fisheries Policy. The first draft Small-scale Fisheries Policy was tabled at a workshop held on 7 and 8 May 2010. The draft policy was mainly rights focused. The Minister required that the policy should respond to current government priorities. An Internal Steering Committee (ISC) was appointed following the workshop, in order to redraft the policy so that it could address issues of economic development, food security and rural development. The DAFF hoped to gazette the final policy in November 2010.

The DAFF discussed the Fishing Closure Project. There was a large decrease in the number of African penguins breeding in the country in this century. The main food for penguins was anchovy and sardine. Eastward shifts decreased the availability of the fish. The DAFF wanted to engage in experimental closures of certain fishing around penguin colonies. This was introduced from 2008, and extensive monitoring of penguins was undertaken. The information was still being analysed.

The DAFF would be using its fisheries management vessels during the 2010 FIFA World Cup for security purposes, as the Department played a key role in the security cluster. The DAFF would create a partnership with the Department of Defence and Military Veterans in order to address poaching. The Department was also involved in an Abalone Recovery Plan, which included an opening of an abalone fishery.

Discussion
Ms N Magadla (KZN, ANC) asked why there were so many Department officials working in an “acting” capacity.

The Chairperson concurred, saying that it was a matter that the Committee should discuss with the Minister.

Mr Faizel Daniels, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, DAFF, replied that the Minister had held interviews for the posts of Director-General and the Chief Financial Officer. The Minister also prioritised the filling of all the senior management posts in the DAFF. The Minister would be informing the Committee of this shortly.

Mr M Makhubela (Limpopo, COPE) wanted clarity on the definition of small-scale fisheries. He asked if the definition also covered poaching, and enquired whether a person fishing in order to feed himself would be regarded as a poacher.

Mr Makhubela noted that if an individual was not granted a permit then s/he could appeal in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA). However, he noted that a person could not appeal if a decision was made by the Minister. He pointed out that it was mostly the unemployed population who would be affected by this policy. He asked the DAFF to elaborate on this.

Dr Hlatshwayo replied that the definition for small-scale fishing included poaching. However, poaching was listed as an illegal activity, so the DAFF wanted to deal with it under enforcement.

Mr Daniels clarified that there were people who were harvesting fish illegally for subsistence reasons. However, according to the definition, DAFF was referring to those who were holding rights that allowed them to harvest fish legally. Poaching could also be divided into small-scale and large-scale syndicated and organised crime. Both were illegal in terms of the law and DAFF regarded them as such.

Dr Hlatshwayo added that the matter of individual rights was discussed at length with stakeholders, as the DAFF was embarking on a new policy direction that would involve value chain development.

Mr D Worth (Free State, DA) noted that the DAFF had an abalone recovery plan and that the Department had opened an abalone fishery. He stated that the abalone fishery in East London had collapsed, as the abalone had picked up some sort of infection after five years. There were a number of collapsed fish farms and millions of rands had been wasted. He enquired why DAFF thought that its own farm would be more successful than the abalone farms that were set up in the past.

Dr Hlatshwayo answered that the opening of abalone farms spoke to the harvesting of wild stocks. There was a programme within the DAFF that looked at establishing fish farms. The government had to admit that it had never prioritised these skills. The reasons why the other abalone farms collapsed included the fact that the government did not provide the beneficiaries with the right tools and skills. He concurred that the specific reason for collapse of the abalone farm in East London was a disease outbreak, coupled with a shortage of veterinarians and skills to address aquatic animal diseases. The DAFF had prioritised this and acknowledged that it had to start scaling-up current technical capacities. Two years ago, the DAFF started a programme with China, where animal health technicians and veterinarians were taken to China to study animals distressed from diseases. The DAFF also commissioned the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Rhodes to develop programmes that would capacitate veterinarians. Unfortunately, the country still faced a shortage of veterinary skills. The Minister had made this one of her priorities to address.

Mr M Sibande (Mpumalanga, ANC) stated that the DAFF spoke of prioritising formerly disadvantaged people. He wanted a breakdown of the number of people who were given proper licensing. Many people stayed in small-scale fishing and it seemed that they could be bound to stay there for the rest of their lives. The DAFF also spoke of traditional fishing. Somewhere in Sodwana Bay, “fish crawlers” were being used. He wanted to know what the DAFF was doing to assist and upgrade these small-scale farmers. He addressed the Draft National Fisheries Plan (DNFP). He asked the DAFF to elaborate on the Plan as it was very vague, without any specifics being mentioned.

Dr Hlatshwayo replied that the DAFF wanted the small-scale farmers to grow. The first thing the Minister did when she was appointed was to try to understand who the client was in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Clients included people that were producing at subsistence level, those that were producing at small-scale economic level and those that were producing at large-scale economic commercial level. This was an opportunity to upgrade small-scale farmers and subsistence farmers so they would have the opportunity to grow and produce for the local market. The DAFF also wanted these farmers to look further than just producing at local level. The idea was for small-scale farmers to graduate to commercial farmers.

He stated that he understood the complaint that the DNFP was too vague. The DAFF wanted to come back to the Committee to brief Members on the DNFP in full, once the Minister had approved the Plan.

Mr Dennis Fredericks, Acting Director: Inshore Resources Management, DAFF, addressed the issue of fish crawlers. He replied that there was a programme called “Exemption Fishing by Subsistence Fishers”, which would include the people of Sodwana Bay. They were still allowed to fish and apply their long standing traditions. They were also part of the small-scale fisheries process, where they would have the opportunity to get into mainstream fishing. These people were the main drivers behind these policies.

Mr Sibande stated that the DAFF had to give the Committee a breakdown of the numbers of people who were granted licenses. He did not think there was anybody who would not want to upgrade his or her business.

Dr Hlatshwayo reiterated that the DAFF did not want people to stay small-scale farmers. The DAFF was providing these people with opportunities so that they had options of being either small-scale or commercial farmers. He stated that the DAFF could provide the breakdown of the licenses that were granted in written form, as the representatives did not have the data with them at that moment.

Mr Daniels added that the DAFF was happy to provide the Committee with details on the transformation of the sector. His view was that the transformation of the sector should not merely be calculated on the basis of the number or amount of rights DAFF had allocated to women, disabled persons or the youth. This was not a true reflection of the level of transformation in the industry. The rights were allocated on paper, and could be sold the very next day to so called “white” companies. The DAFF would have to provide an analysis on the data and explain how it saw transformation.

Mr Makhubela asked the DAFF for an organogram showing the capacity that the Department needed.

Dr Hlatshwayo replied that the DAFF had capacity problems, but was awaiting approval of the micro-structure of the DAFF from the Minister. This process was ongoing. DAFF was in discussion with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) about it.

Mr Sibande noted that a National Small-Scale Fisheries Summit was held in 2007, which led to a draft small-scale fisheries policy being drawn in May 2010. He asked if the DAFF thought that issues captured in 2007 were still relevant for 2010. He also asked why it had taken so long to draw up the draft document.

Dr Hlatshwayo answered that the first draft document was discussed and the DAFF infused into it new issues and responses to the new mandate of the government, especially the five priority areas. The DAFF was trying to make the draft document relevant for 2010.

Mr Sibande stated that there were people who were involved with drug smuggling in islands around the country. These people had also designed very fast ships that were difficult to catch. He asked what the DAFF was doing to ensure that it could catch these people.

Mr Desmond Stevens, Director: Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach, DAFF, replied that some of the DAFF speedboats and vessels were found to be lacking in agility, which hampered chasing very organised criminal syndicates when on sea. Recently, the DAFF acquired a few customised speed boats that were much faster. This was part of the broader security deployment process that was driven by the security cluster and the South African Police Service.

The Chairperson asked the DAFF what the implications were of the Fisheries Closure Project on fish stocks and on the community. She agreed that the DNFP was very vague. She asked what the timeframes were for the fishing programme. People were waiting to participate in fishing programmes contained in the Plan.

Dr Johann Augusteyn, Acting Chief Director: Resources Management, DAFF, replied that the two islands that were affected by the closure were islands that currently did not have any people living on them. The islands were bird colonies. He stated that there were some activities that were not affected by the closure. People were not allowed to catch pelagic fish for 20 kilometres around the island. Consultation was held with those who would be affected by the closure and they were part of the working group that discussed the possibility of a closure. They agreed to the closure for the specified periods. There would be further discussions on the way forward. There was a possibility that more islands would have to be closed in order to stem the decline of penguins. This too would be discussed with those affected.

Mr Stevens agreed that the plan was vague. There were specific strategies and interventions within the plan that spoke about the capacity that was needed and the budget that was required to deliver on that integrated fisheries plan.

The Chairperson thanked the DAFF for its presentation. However, she warned that she had received letters from communities asking and complaining about the granting of licenses. She did not know whether these letters had been addressed to her because the community was not receiving clear answers from the DAFF or any other place, as the Committee should be the avenue of last resort. Because Members were public representatives, the Committee had to answer to them. DAFF had to empower people, not suppress them. If people had the capacity and capability to do something, the DAFF had to empower them.

Adoption of Minutes
The Chairperson asked Mr Mokgoro to stand in as Chairperson for adoption of the Committee’s minutes.

Members approved and adopted the minutes of 20 April 2010, without amendments. The minutes of 4 May, with minor amendments, were approved and adopted. The minutes of 13 May 2010 were adopted without amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.