Small-Scale Fisheries in South Africa: Minister and Departmental briefings on Draft Policy

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

09 November 2010
Chairperson: Ms N Twala (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, with the Minister also in attendance, briefed the Portfolio Committee on its draft policy for Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) in South Africa. A total of 8 028 applications were made for fishing rights and allocations, of which 1 517 were successful. 947 appeals were lodged, of which two succeeded. 1 000 historical fisherfolk were entitled to compensation. An Equality Court order had compelled the State to finalise a policy framework for SSF, who had been disadvantaged by previous decisions to allocate marine living resources mainly for commercial and recreational purposes, largely ignoring the historical fisher folk. However, the state and sustainability of marine living resources, high levels of poverty and the lack of gender equity in the sector also had to be considered. The new policy adopted a community based approach to rights allocation instead of using the individual approach of the past, a co-management approach to managing the SSF sector, and a developmental approach to small scale fisheries. The policy further addressed supply chain from catch to market, and proposed subsidy schemes for fish storage and training on processing, pacakaging and marketing and business skills. Some management decisions were likely to be devolved to fishing communities, and self-regulating roles for SSF communities may be set up, with people acting as go-betweens to communicate information to and from the Department. An SSF community would apply to the Minister for recognition, would then set up a community-based legal entity, and would draw up a list of its members who were entitled to fish. Duration of rights would depend on the species. Conflict resolution mechanisms would be set up to resolve internal conflicts in the SSF. The Department set out the challenges as including enforcement of compliance, capacity to support fishers, the selection criteria and the species that could be fished.

Members commented that the policy seemed too vague, will ill-defined timeframes, and further noted that if consultation with communities was to take place then it was unlikely that the policy could be resolved by the year-end. They cited potential for conflict in zones, and also thought that there might well be problems if one sector of the community was pitted against another, or if people were being asked to report back to the Department on problems. They pointed out that in the past community-based allocation of rights had not been successful, and enquired whether the Department was intending to use cooperatives. Members asked whether SSFs could fish in deeper waters, whether unsuccessful applicants could reapply, what would happen to the unsuccessful applicants, how the screening was done, and what the criteria for screening were. Members asked what had been achieved since April 2010, and why the numbers of applicants were so high, especially considering the challenge of scarce resources. They questioned the use of independent companies and the value they added, and asked what capacity the Department had. Members questioned protection sustainability, and disaster relief, and how fisherfolk would be assisted to support themselves after their retirement. An ANC Member urged the Committee to examine the policy thoroughly before approving it, pointing out some errors of calculation in the figures, and questioning whether the right research had been done, and whether the policy was based on sound principles, urging that the Department should not create expectations that it could not fulfil, and pointing out that the subsidisation seemed quite low. Members were critical of the lack of transformation and of mention of the initiatives for women, and also thought that the provinces should have been taken on board.

Meeting report

Small Scale Fishing: Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Draft Policy
Hon Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, attended the meeting.

Mr Richard Seleke, Acting Deputy Director-General: Fisheries, Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, presented the Draft Policy on Small Scale Fisheries of the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) to the Committee.

He began by outlining the figures for successful and unsuccessful applications for fishing rights and allocations. A total of 8 028 applications was received, of which 1 517 were successful and 6 283 were not. There had been a total of 947 appeals, of which two were successful. 1 000 historical fisherfolk (HFF) won their cases against the Department and were now entitled to compensation. The Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) policy should accommodate small scale fisher folks, and a merger process had been established so that government would accommodate them in the process.

He outlined that the factors that had shaped the policy included the background of the order of the Equality Court, which had compelled the State to finalise a policy framework for SSF. The Department had acknowledged that SSF had been unfairly disadvantaged by past decisions to allocate marine living resources mainly for commercial and recreational purposes, and had largely ignored the historical fisher folk. Other factors included the state and sustainability of marine living resources, high levels of poverty and the lack of gender equity in the sector.

The main pillars of the policy were a community based approach to rights allocation instead of using the individual approach of the past, a co-management approach to managing the SSF sector, and a developmental approach to small scale fisheries.

It was important for government to put institutional arrangements in place for people and communities. Although there was not yet a solid agreement on this, the Department was considering a 50/50 stake between the community and the State.

The policy also addressed the supply chain from the catch to the market, and proposed subsidy schemes for fish storage, and skills training in processing, packaging, marketing and basic business skills. The policy further suggested co-management of fisheries and shared responsibility, but was willing to devolve some management decisions to fishing communities. The Department would set up self-regulating roles for SSF communities, in the sense that the communities would become sources of information to their own communities and would brief them on the procedures and policies set out by the Department.

Mr Seleke noted that under the new policy, the right to fish would be held by the small-scale fishing community. The first step would be for the SSF community to apply to the Minister for recognition, and once it was approved it would set up a community-based legal entity, and would draw up a list of its members who were entitled to fish. Thereafter, the community-based legal entity would submit the list to the Minister.

The duration of rights depended largely on the species. SSF right applicants could appeal to the Minister where they were affected by a decision taken by a delegation of an official. SSF applicants may also appeal where they were excluded from the list, or where a legal entity was refusing fishing rights, or where no allocation was received from fishing rights granted to SSF communities.

Conflict resolution mechanisms between members of the SSF community must be resolved through agreed internal conflict resolution mechanisms.

The challenges for implementation lay in the enforcement of compliance, capacity to support fishers, selection criteria, and the basket of species to be made available to SSF.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) had concerns about the proposed zoning of areas for small-scale fisheries. He asked whether this proposal had been formulated in consultation with the people or whether the Department felt that it was a better way to control SSF. He drew a corollary with the taxi wars, and said that these happened because taxis were given zones in which to operate, and this led to conflict when some taxis operated outside of their zones.

Mr Seleke replied that the proposal for zoning was primarily based on a resource management plan that would be used to manage fisheries. It was better to manage an area where there were clear demarcations, and it was for this reason that SSFs would only operate in a particular zone. Problems would arise when communities cut across zones.

Mr Cebehkulu asked for more clarity on the onshore and offshore issue. He wondered whether, if SSFs was given the opportunity to fish only on the banks of the ocean, this would not cause them disadvantage. They might be better able to service the market by catching fish deeper in the ocean.

Mr Seleke answered that, in reality, far more capital investment was required to operate in high seas. It was a very expensive venture, for instance, to set sail for 30 days, and SSF could not practically afford this, even thought it might result in more fish being harvested. There were many complex issues, such as technologies to fish, diesel costs and access to vessels, and this was the basis on which the decision was made.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane, (ANC) asked what happened to the unsuccessful applicants after their applications were rejected. She wondered if they would be able to apply again.

Mr Seleke agreed that there were many unsuccessful applications. The criteria that were set out and that had to be met may have contributed to this. It was one thing simply to reverse what had been done where the applications were successfully challenged, but it was another to be realistic about what was presented, and how to find ways of dealing with this. All the applications were tied to a legal process, which was endorsed by government. The Department was dealing with continuing requests from the community for access to resources. There were 1 500 interim relief beneficiaries on the Department’s books. The Department, however, was unable to accommodate the other unsuccessful 2 400 applicants, within its limited resource base. If all should be accommodated, then the figures presented would increase dramatically. The more problems in the sea, the more policing issues at sea would arise.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane commented that the Department needed to set a time frame in which the policy would be put together.

Mr Seleke answered that the Department had set a target time for the end of the financial year, within which the draft policy should be brought to conclusion, and then the Department must submit an implementation plan. There was also a parallel process of negotiating for space. This was somewhat problematic, and the Minister was supposed to handle this. The Department now had to engage with the major players. The money spent on policing the waters could be used for development.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) said that she was not sure how successful community based allocated rights would be. The Committee had seen failures of these types of policies in the past. She asked whether the Department was referring to cooperatives.

Mr Seleke replied that individual allocations created more problems, because people contested their own or the fact that some other individuals were given fishing rights. It was preferable that the community should say who was rightfully entitled to these rights. The Department had considered the use of cooperatives (coops) and had held meetings to try to come up with a legal instrument that would allocate 50% of the coop to government, whilst the community held the other 50%. This would give the government the authority to dissolve an entity in a case where there was conflict. Government had to oversee that all the infrastructure was used properly. If communities were allowed to create those on their own it would be problematic, and this process would have to be managed.

Ms Phaliso questioned the screening system of unsuccessful applicants, asking whether it was done through the Department or another designated group. She further enquired about the criteria for screening and whether the Department also screened the history of the applicants.

Mr Seleke said that the Department acknowledged the long term allocation rights, acknowledging that government policies must be based on these. The Department tried to implement the policy guidance that was given to it.

Ms Phaliso asked what had been the Department’s progress since the proclamation in April.

Mr Seleke said that much had been done to date. He said that if the Department had been advised, prior to the meeting, that Members wanted to hear what had been done to date in the branch, he would have prepared a specific presentation on this. The Department had done much work within the constraints of its limited capacity, including research into the needs of the people, and had tried to adapt to those needs. The Department was trying to put in place a mechanism for community development, in order to decentralise the services to communities.

Ms Phaliso asked if the high number of applicants had been “inherited” by DAFF, and why these numbers were so high.

Mr N Du Toit (DA) thought that the number of allocations finally awarded to applicants was indicative of a problem of scarce resources, and asked for the Department to comment on this, which was surely a real challenge. He also enquired what studies previously done by the Department had formed the basis for the policy.

Mr Seleke said that the Department had commissioned an independent company, which had worked with the Department in putting together some of the draft points and research that supported the preliminary framework of the policy. This included the work on the community, systems, and coops. The consolidation of the input would also be done by a private entity, to avoid any bias.

Mr Du Toit pointed out that the Department had stated in the presentation that it would be taking and responding to comments from the public. He wondered when it would find the time to do so. He noted that in the past the public had been very averse to the Department. He asked whether the capital and manpower was available to do so. He also pointed out that the Department needed to work on a time frame so that the Minister could approve the budget, which would be allocated over a few years.

Mr Seleke answered that a lot of capital investment would have to go into the implementation of the policy. In terms of government manpower and structures, the Department needed to make sure that capacity was built to implement the policy. The Department had not allocated specific posts, but was in the process of doing that. The Minister had put a process in place to broadly look at the financial requirements of the Department for the future.

Mr Du Toit further asked for clarity on the issue of protection sustainability.

Mr Du Toit questioned the Department’s proposal for community fishing rights rather than individual rights, and he also took issue with the proposal to put community members into an enforcement environment, to take care of SSF issues in their communities. He said that this was going to cause conflict, because it would pit one section of the community against another on certain issues around SSF. He thought that there was much potential for problems.

Mr Seleke said that the community would not be similar to police officers, but would rather play a community development role. Those members would become a source of information, and would brief the community from time to time on Departmental matters, whilst also being a source of information to the government on what might be happening within the communities.

Mr Du Toit asked who would be enforcing compliance, and how and where this would take place.

Mr Du Toit also questioned the notion of disaster relief, saying that he could understand the mitigatory features on land, where, for instance, there were fires, but questioned how it would happen at sea. Once a ship had sunk, that was the end of it.

Mr Seleke said that the disaster relief had more to do with cultural matters. There might be cases where fisherman died at sea and the Department did not have systems to take care of them. The Department had not contextualised precisely what all the issues under disaster relief would encompass, nor had it compiled exactly what supporting policies might deal with them, but was at present dealing with matters on an ad hoc basis, as they arose.

Mr Du Toit asked how the Department aimed to assist fisherfolk to build sustainability after they retired.

Mr Du Toit asked how the independent organisation would be established to approve allocations to the communities. There were many scientists within the Department, yet it was proposing that an independent body would be brought in.

Mr Seleke said that he was only making reference to the Department’s other surveys in the Western Cape, namely the resource strategy. The Department did realise that communities in certain quarters did not agree with the TAC allocation, particularly around abalone. Communities complained that there was enough abalone but the Department was allowing them very little. On the other hand, the Department’s scientists were adamant that the resources were not sufficient to allow more fishing. Poaching could only be stopped if communities believed the information the Department gave them, and for this reason the Department had agreed to commission an independent survey. The Department was supported by the University of Cape Town (UCT). Mathematical models were used to count the fish. The people running those models were based at UCT, and were paid on a contract basis.

Mr Du Toit said that the determination of sustainability was quite a challenge, and asked how the Department would overcome that. Conflict resolution was another challenge, particularly in regard to whether the resources had been under or overestimated, which then limited people to fishing a certain amount, perhaps also changing the amounts that they were initially allocated.

Mr Seleke said the determination of sustainability depended on the catch. Once the total allowable catch or effort had been determined, a management process would be put in place to say who would be allocated what. The TAC took into consideration the ability of the resources, and how these resources reproduced, and so the correct calculation was very important. If a potentially reproducing fish was caught, and removed from the reproduction cycle, this meant that the resource was being exploited. Once it was exploited beyond a certain level, it would also lessen the ability to recover the resource. At present the Department was putting together a recovery plan in which it limited the total allowable catch over a period, so that the source could recover itself.

Mr Seleke then dealt with the comments on conflict resolution. The Department had accepted that there would be a fair share of conflict, and thus the draft policy proposed that conflict resolution committees be set up at community level. The comments that had come through to the Department would by and large assist them with those issues.

Mr S Abram (ANC) suggested that the Committee must examine the draft policy very carefully before giving it any seal of approval, as Members would otherwise be failing the people of South Africa.

Mr Seleke agreed with the necessity to ensure that policies were correct, but said that the Department was under considerable pressure.

Mr Abram informed the Department that any criticism was not meant to be negative, but was aimed at improving the situation, and, as a Member of Parliament, he considered it his duty to try to put right anything that was wrong. He stipulated that the figures presented were incorrect, and although the Department might suggest that this was a minor issue, the Members could not let it slip by. The Department said there were 444 applications for Cluster A fishing, but according to his calculations there were actually 445. 1 941 Applications were received for Cluster B, although the Department stated that there were 1 949. The Department further stated that a total of 451 applications were received for Cluster D, but the correct figure here was 230. He did not know what the figures presented were based upon, but questioned whether they were entirely correct, stressing that the Department needed to produce impeccable and accurate figures in its presentations.

Mr Abram asked whether it was the Equality Court order that compelled the Department to finalise the Small Scale Fisheries policy, or whether the Department had already planned it.

Mr Seleke said that it was true that the Equality Court had made a determination on the 1 000 fisherfolk who were deemed to be traditional fisherfolk, and the Department was expected to implement the decision of that Court.

Mr Abram said that when finalising a policy with rights allocations, it was necessary for the Department to do the right research and to determine the extent of the resources. He asked whether the Department had done sufficient research on the issues, to ensure that this policy was based on sound principles and that it was sustainable. He pointed out that it would be undesirable, if not dangerous, to make promises to a poor man and then let him down.

Mr Seleke replied that the expectations around communities were not only created by government, but resulted from many factors, and conceded that some people may originally have had access to opportunities, then were deprived of them, and would try to seize the opportunity again if it arose. Communities were now interacting far more with Parliament, because they saw this as another avenue. Media reports were often also responsible for raising expectations.

Mr Abram asked whether the Department had alternative plans for unsuccessful applicants.

Mr Abram noted that the Department proposed to give R1 200 per month, to families who had been unsuccessful in their applications. However, he compared this to the R6 000 of services provided to a prison inmate per month. He asked whether the Department could take another look at the proposals to decide whether there was anything else it could do to assist communities.

Mr Abram also asked what infrastructure was in place for this policy and said that it needed to be spelled out clearly in the policy. He again asked that the Department must ensure that people were not deluded.

Mr Seleke noted that the infrastructure should be covered in the implementation plan. It would be problematic to cover this in the Department’s policy, because support was not given to the individual but to the communities. Providing support to the community would provide incentives for individuals to join the community structures. The State could support an organised grouping of individuals only.

Mr Abram asked it was correct that this was the first time in 16 years that there had been any serious attempt at creating a policy for SSF. If so, then the Department and Members needed to take co-responsibility for neglecting and betraying the poor fisherfolk to date.

Ms Phaliso asked that in the next meeting she could be given a programme setting out how the Department intended to reach its goal, including time frames for implementation. She commented that the current report was very vague.

Ms Phaliso further noted that the Department was apparently unable to transform itself, or the sector, to accommodate women, noting that there was no mention of women in the institutional arrangements.

Ms Phaliso also noted that the provinces were not taken on board on the whole sector transformation process, which was unfair as they too had inherited issues. It was not only the New Economic Development and Labour Council who should be giving input, as the provinces were facing real issues on the ground.

Ms Phaliso said that the use of the independent companies was wasteful. Although the Department depended on them in the past, she did not feel that they were helping much, and felt that it was due to these independent companies that the Department was now sitting with a backlog.

Ms Phaliso also felt that Mr Seleki’s answer on the unsuccessful applicants was not convincing. She believed that the term “unsuccessful applicant” was disappointing, and suggested that some other term be found. On page 10, she thought that the last sentence should be corrected by the reference to “the Minister may…” being replaced by the Minister will…”

Mr Du Toit commented that the time frame set for finalisation of the policy by the end of the year, and implementation to follow finalisation was not workable. There had to be interaction with the communities, and this would require a longer process.

Mr Du Toit reiterated his concerns that if the group was the sole basis for rights allocations, this could give rise to a situation where members of one group would be ganging up on individuals. He was not sure whether this was the right way to go, and was also concerned that the Department did not seem to have obtained expert opinions on this legal matter. Individual rights could be accommodated in coops, but the Department could not force someone to join a collective, and there had to be mutual benefit in doing so. He thought that more research on this was needed.

It was noted that not all questions could be answered in the meeting, due to time constraints.

The meeting was adjourned.


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