Five fishing community-based organisations and non-government organisations addressed the Portfolio Committee on the state of small-scale fishing communities and subsistence fishers as well as the problems faced by these largely impoverished communities by the Covid-19 crisis and the national lockdown. This was made worse by alleged poor communication between the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and fishing communities – which caused confusion and frustration.
Masifundise Development Trust spoke about how fishermen had been attacked on several occasions by state officials due to poorly demarcated national parks and due to unclear fishing laws. They explained the shortfalls of the Small-Scale Fishing Policy. The main concern is that 53% of applicants who applied to be acknowledged as subsistence fishermen were unsuccessful. The Trust highlighted a legislative vacuum for inland fishing communities. Many fishers are excluded from the system, in that they are not awarded fishing permits and the Covid-19 Lockdown has been extremely harsh on this sector.
The South African United Fishing Front addressed the Committee on how fishing communities do not have access to the correct information and were unable to make a living during the national lockdown. Having small-scale fishing declared an essential service was useless without any market outlets. The organisations complained of the lack of a proper consultation process at grassroots level to inform the Department's policies. They noted the breakdown in the relationship between the Department and small-scale fisher communities, in which fishers no longer want to approach the Department due to undignified way the Department treats them.
The KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum similarly stated that the Department had not taken on board the information provided by the fishing communities and included these communities in policymaking. The lack of willingness of the Department to include fishing communities and the organisations that represent them in decision-making was noted by all organisations as causing the continued struggle to earn their livelihood.
The Committee assured the presenters that it would approach the Department to get the consultation process done properly. Members agreed that the categorisation of fisherfolk needed to be re-evaluated in order to include subsistence fishermen. Members asked the Department when the gazetting of the lockdown fishing regulations would occur so that information can be provided for fishing communities and confusion could be cleared. Members raised concern about the poor interaction between the different spheres of government as their inability to work together harmed the fishing industry. Members said they had received reports of fishers being harassed by junior municipal officials.
As the Chairperson was unable to connect to the virtual meeting due to technical difficulties, he asked Ms S Mbatha (ANC) to chair.
Masifundise Development Trust (MDT) submission
Mr Naseegh Jaffer, MDT Director, said the MDT has addressed the Committee on a number of occasions in the past and is an organisation which has been working with small-scale fishing communities since 2000. It played a role in the creation of the Small-Scale Fishing Policy and its inclusion in legislation which MDT sees as one of its biggest achievements. Mr Jaffer made the following points:
• The commercialisation of fishing after 1994 caused great difficulties for small-scale fishing.
• Although small-scale fishing has a strong commercial element to it, it is not entirely commercial – for fishers it is both a job and a way of life.
• Small-scale fishing includes entire communities to earn income. All members of the community and fisher households are involved with the tasks of catching, cleaning and selling. This reflects how it is a way of life.
• When the Small-Scale Fishing Policy was introduced, of the 22 600 applicants who applied for recognition as small-scale fishers, only 47% of these applicants were successful.
• The reasons for unsuccessful applications vary from applicants having submitted insufficient or incorrect information, applicants not having access to fishing vessels and a range of requirements they did not meet.
• 53% of applicants were unsuccessful and left out. Nevertheless, these people's livelihoods and subsistence are still dependant on fishing at sea and the collection of sea life in the intertidal zone.
• It is a huge problem that people are left out both by the policy’s criteria and the overall system which does not recognise them.
• At least for coastal fishing communities there is the Marine Resources Act and policy which is applied
• There is a legislative and policy vacuum to accommodate inland fishers.
• Fishers who fall outside of the system as they are not recognised in terms of permits, do not qualify for social welfare and social grants to support them during the Covid-19 Lockdown. They are therefore not able to receive food parcels nor are they able to access fishing grounds.
• Fishing grounds are largely accessed through marine parks and terrestrial parks which had been closed prior to level 3 of the National Lockdown. Access has been denied to fishers who have permits.
• These permits have been recently given to inland fishing communities in the Northern Cape in certain areas. It took 50 days of lockdown negotiations, discussions, and engagement with authorities to get permits.
• Although people had the right to fish as given by Minister Creecy they could not exercise that right.
• It is foolhardy to believe that fishing communities during the National Lockdown are recognised as an essential service and therefore allowed to fish. This is not the case.
• Recently there has been an abundant supply of snoek on the West Coast but communities battle to get snoek into the basket of food that is distributed to people. Government is not taking advantage of the supply of this nutritious commodity which can alleviate hunger and can address malnutrition in South Africa. Government is not recognising that this contribution can happen.
• There have been instances were fishers in the Eastern Cape have been shot and killed by game rangers in national parks because they accessed fishing grounds within these areas. Often there is no physical sign that one is in a national park, so fishers are trespassing unknowingly.
• These fishers have been attacked by park rangers and officials. This violent repression is something that they had hoped never to see by government in a time of severe hunger and desperation.
• In KwaZulu Natal there is the challenge where government has issued fishing permits to some fishers, but they issue one permit to the small-scale fishing co-operatives who have been awarded permits. This permit is sent to the chairperson of the co-op with the instruction that person must make copies for the rest of the members. However, this is not possible during lockdown as the chairperson is faced with a challenge to gain access to a photocopier despite being an essential worker.
• The Covid-19 Lockdown has exacerbated the existing problems faced by small-scale fishing communities, but government is not helping to fix these problems despite small-scale fishing being labelled an essential service.
• MDT recommends that government recognise that small scale fishing communities make an active contribution to the economy at local level. They provide an important service to the food and nutritional needs in communities. Government needs to get officials to understand this important role of fishing communities.
• An issue faced by small-scale fishing co-operative in the Northern Cape which have been granted rights to harvest West Coast rock lobster. These co-ops are unable to export their product and therefore are unable to earn an income. These co-ops do not receive any benefits or welfare from government even though they are unable to sell their products due to the lockdown.
• As small-scale fishing is recognised as an essential service it should follow that government should provide fishers with personal protective equipment (PPE). The nature of small-scale fishing practice makes it impossible to maintain social distancing, this therefore necessitates the need for PPE.
• The bulk of fishers have been excluded from any form of social welfare. Therefore, food parcels do not help those who have been awarded fishing rights and does not do justice to small-scale fishers. If they are excluded from this then government is responsible for their hunger and the poverty that they experience.
South African United Fishing Front (SAUFF) submission
Mr Pedro Garcia, SAUFF Chairperson, said the SAUFF’s submissions to the Portfolio Committee in 2013 and 2016 have not changed. The only things that have changed are the officials and Committee members.
• The situation of small-scale fishing communities remains dire and the reasons they are in abject poverty are not being addressed. It is important that solutions are created.
• The following is how Covid-19 and the national lockdown has impacted on the fishing communities:
- Export markets collapsed two months prior to the national lockdown – within the basket of species available to small-scale communities are high value species which are exported. The collapse of the Chinese market severely impacted on the SA small-scale fishing sector as it is the main destination for high value exports.
- Regardless of small-scale fishing being declared an essential service, small-scale fishing communities are unable to sell to an international market which has collapsed. These communities are unable to sell to the local market as lockdown restrictions resulted in the closure of the restaurant and hospitality industries.
- Without earning an income from these markets, small-scale fishing communities can fish only for subsistence which does not cover their range of needs.
- For inland fishing community the same problems exist and there is a great deal of confusion. Minister Creecy’s recent announcements on level 3 have not translated into regulations. People do not have access to the correct information and do not have food on the table.
- Being declared an essential service without any market outlets is useless and does not allow for communities to support themselves.
• The negative attitude of Department officials towards small-scale fishers is a terminology issue. Department officials treat small-scale fishers with contempt because of their classification which is not helpful. It has led to a breakdown in the relationship between the Department and small-scale fisher communities, in which fishers no longer want to approach the Department.
• These communities are treated in an undignified manner due to the label that they have been assigned as small-scale fishers – as if they do not mean anything.
• There should be less talk of the percentages of resources given to small-scale fishing communities and more talk of the value of these communities, and where these people find themselves along the value chain.
• The value of the resource is of utmost importance because there is a tendency for small-scale fishing communities to not see the real value as they have been so marginalised along the value chain that they accept at face-value the price offered to them. The resources are then sold at a much higher price unknown to the communities because they have been intentionally kept in the dark.
• There is monopolistic approach by marketers and big companies and no one seems willing to do anything about it.
• It is a matter of building institutional capacity at the grassroots level so that these communities achieve what is necessary for them.
• These communities need to derive the optimal benefit and not remain at the bottom-end of the value chain.
• Policy needs to fairly address and reform the injustices of the past which is not taking place. It is sad to be addressing the Committee again and instead of progress from a grassroots level, we can talk only of regress. Nothing has changed in small-scale fishing communities.
• The small-scale fishing policy as it is being unpacked will not show a benefit because there are not any resources available to put into the basket of species. The only resources to add economic value to that basket are only going to become available at the end of 2021 - and that is if we are lucky enough to get the apportionment that Minister Creecy has spoken about.
• Prior to Covid-19 and the National Lockdown, Minister Creecy had stated that there would be a consultative advisory forum (CAF). We do not know who is informing the Minister of grassroots issues and of the small-scale fishing industry.
• The Department is never held to account when it comes to small-scale fisheries and this is one of the problems we are dealing with. Months ago we applied for recognition as an interested party under the Marine Living Resources Act. There is not one civil society organisation that has official recognition that can hold the Department to account.
• The Department refuses to acknowledge that there are small-scale fishing organisations. This a strategy because it is easier to divide and conquer than to deal with the people that democratically and legally representing the small-scale fishers.
[Due to time constraints limiting SAUFF, it was asked to forward its submission to the Ministry's Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Mr Gift Mguni].
Durban South Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) submission
Mr Desmond D’sa, SDCEA Coordinator, made the following comments:
• The KwaZulu Natal subsistence fishermen have been around for 160 years. It is a fishing tradition and culture that has been passed down from generation to generation.
• The KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum (KZNSFF) was formed in 2003 because US President George Bush decided after 9/11 that poor people should not be entering the harbours of South Africa to fish.
• Although the government and Transnet allowed fishing boats to fish in Durban harbour, poor fishermen which we call the rod-and-reel fishermen or rock-and-surf fishermen were not allowed in the harbour.
• We took this case to the Ports Regulator SA and it took over 10 years to win the case and get recognition as subsistence fishermen by the Ports Regulator and Transnet.
• 12000 subsistence fishermen have been given permits to enter the harbour and fish.
• We have been involved in making submissions on policy and legislation to the government and Department. The Apartheid government recognised us and then changed the fishing licence to recreation.
• Despite being recognised by the local government as subsistence fishermen, the Apartheid government changed the licence to recreational fishermen which resulted in subsistence fishermen having to pay for the new licence.
• Subsistence fishermen are largely very poor and unemployed – this has been recognised by Metrorail which has subsidised the fishermen’s transport to the Durban harbour.
• There are over 30000 subsistence fishermen that have been fishing along the KZN coastline.
• We have an elected body and we have been talking to the provincial government, the municipal council and Minister Creecy and her ministry. But for some reason they do not believe we are subsistence and that we do not need to be consulted because it is not in the law.
• We have proof of all the comments we have made on the subsistence fishermen policy to the Department and we can make those documents available.
• We have mailed them to some of the Members of Parliament who are aware of that.
• We have proof that we have consulted with the Department including former Ministers. When we met former Fisheries Deputy Minister, Bheki Cele, in Durban he agreed that the policy should be changed.
• We understand Minister Creecy is fairly new to the ministry, prior to her being introduced into the Cabinet we had made all the evidence and information available. This information is the collective knowledge of the subsistence fishermen: their own science; their own knowledge of fish and of the ocean.
• It is sad that the Department officials have not taken this information on board nor have they ensured that we are included in all policies. This is where the problem lies.
• We hope that with Mr Riaz Khan presenting on what is happening due to Covid-19, that the Portfolio Committee direct the Department to hold public hearings with everybody.
• The information we provide can never be provided to the same Department that has ignored all the information we have presented over the years. It must be provided to somebody who is independent.
• In this regard we do not want scientists as we do not believe scientists will do justice to it. We want a team appointed from all the different fishing communities. A team of a few people that can put together a document to find solutions to the problems faced by small-scale subsistence fishing communities.
• You cannot have a few people fishing when thousands of people have been locked out.
KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum (KZNSFF) submission
Mr Riaz Khan, KZNSFF Chairperson, said he did not know where the policy that subsistence fishing was not recognised came about but it was totally unfair.
• The word use of the word "recreational" was taken from the Apartheid time, rather than choosing the word "subsistence".
• Subsistence is a bigger word – we need the policy and the regulations to be changed. We need subsistence to be recognised. Subsistence fishing communities are the poorest of the poor and cannot afford to be ignored.
• The concerns under Covid-19 are the following:
- As the KZNFF chairperson, he has been talking to Minister Creecy. Despite this, he has been arrested on the grounds of having forged the correspondence with Department.
- They still have not recognised us as subsistence fishermen.
- These communities have suffered. They have been made to starve because of the Minister’s decision to make the sale of fish illegal.
- This is not right as these communities have been fishing for 150 years. It does not make sense to anyone.
- Subsistence fishermen go out late at night trying to catch fish to provide for their families.
- These communities are not asking for hand-outs.
- Small-scale fisheries are subsidised, yet subsistence fishing is not.
• The government never heard us from the time we objected to all the policies even though it came to the Marine Protected Areas (MPA), the quota system, the six small-scale fishing co-operations in Durban with a total number of 48 people fishing.
• There are not only 48 people fishing, there is easily 30 000 people that are fishing out there.
• The statistics that the Minister is receiving are totally wrong.
• When the Minister says the fish are getting depleted, he agrees but this is because the Chinese trawlers are allowed to come here and rape our seas. They do not have anything out there but yet in Durban we are being challenged.
• Everyone is suffering, small-scale, subsistence and even recreational.
• The process should be done correctly by putting a team together and gathering the right statistics.
• In summary, the policies, the regulations, the word subsistence, public hearings need to be held for us to be recognised.
Ms Jolene Smith, fisherwoman from the Western Cape fishing community
• The fishing community did not know a lot about Covid-19 but they have learnt a lot.
• In the past we have struggled to communicate our struggle and to get someone to listen.
• The communication between the officials and the fishers is poor.
• We have our permits to go to sea but still experience police who threw the fishers out of the water – what does that mean that despite having the right that we cannot even work for our own money.
• The fishers are confronted by the army who do not care what the Minister has said, they say that the fishers are not allowed to be on the sea during the national lockdown.
• The fishers suffer due to the poor communication between the community and the Department officials.
• She asked the Committee tell the Department to include the fishing community in the decision-making.
• The fishing community lives within a MPA and therefore we want to be part of the management of the MPA. This is to be able to decide how we want to work within the MPA.
• The indigenous knowledge of the fishing community is as valuable as the researchers in the Department.
• When lockdown began there was no testing made available to fishers nor were they given protective equipment or information about Covid-19 in Afrikaans.
• The fishing community wants a South African market to sell its fish.
• The high value of West Coast rock lobster is a species which fishers can get money out of once a year.
• There are no markets for the fish caught by the fishing community and she asked that government buy their fish to include in the food parcels that are handed out.
• She asked the Portfolio Committee to tell the Minister to review their pleas.
South African Small-Scale Fishers Collective submission
Mr Christian Adams, Chairperson of South African Small-Scale Fishers Collective, was unable to raise his concerns verbally due to technical difficulties. He sent the following through the Microsoft Teams chat:
“Unfortunately it seems that the true voice of the fishers will not be heard yet again. Of all the people who spoke, none of them fish for a living. All of them benefit on the backs of fishers. Our organization, The Collective of Fishers South Africa, will give a written submission before end of business tomorrow,”
“Like the Honourable Member has just expressed her concerns on NGOs and others claiming to represent fishers, we've been held back all these years through the colluding between these organizations and a corrupt Department responsible for fisheries,”
“One question I want to be answered by the Department is why is there such a big difference between the number of staff responsible for the commercial sector and the number of staff responsible for small scale fisheries? Please answer this!”
“Why don't the Chair recognize my written submission here?”
Mr N Singh (IFP) said that all presenters have raised concerns about their interactions with officials from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. He assured the presenters that the Parliamentary Liaison Officers, Mr Leontsinis and Mr Mnguni, were present from the Office of Minister Creecy as well as the Committee researcher, Dr Watts, who would capture all the concerns that they had raised. It was clear that the consultation process by the Department was not done as it should have been. Although he and the other members were new to the Committee, they were taking up the cause in interacting with the Department.
Mr Singh said firstly a consultation process needs to be opened. Secondly, the categorisation of fisherfolk in Durban and in the Marine Resources Act needs to be revaluated. He reminded the Chairperson that when the Committee adopted its recent report on the Department that this specific recommendation was included. This is important because, as Mr Khan said, there is no category for subsistence fishermen but only a category for recreational which has a completely different meaning. The Committee must ensure that subsistence fishermen must be given their due space and recognition.
Mr Singh said that although he was glad that Level 3 lockdown restrictions would include fishing, his concern was that the interaction between the different spheres of government is poor. The provinces, municipalities and national Departments do not speak to one another in a way that will benefit the fishing industry across the board. He has received reports of fishers being harassed on the beaches by junior municipal officials. In conclusion, the Committee needs to ensure coordination between the different spheres of government, that the National Department plays its role in supporting this important sector of the economy and ensure that the Department assists the small-scale and subsistence fisherfolk during the national lockdown. The Committee must relook at the way in which Marine Protected Areas are demarcated because this is where the fisher organisations have concerns. The Committee needs to begin a discussion on this.
Mr D’sa noted that five fishermen in Umkomaas, KZN were arrested. Two nights ago in Blue Lagoon, Durban police attacked and chased fishermen. In addition, fishermen were arrested and fined at Cuttings Beach in Durban.
Ms H Winkler (DA) asked why some subsistence fisherfolk in KZN were unable to qualify for or access small scale fishing permits? A concern raised by the presenters which the Committee has raised with the Department was the reintroduction of a subsistence fishing category that incorporates many of those excluded from the application process. Those who are currently categorised as recreational fishers but are in fact subsistence fishers. She asked how these fishermen were excluded from the application process. She asked if the Department officials could provide clarity on the timeframe for the gazetting of the fishing regulations which apply to recreational fishers.
Mr Gift Mnguni, Parliamentary Liaison Officer for the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, replied that the Minister will report back to the Committee on gazetting the fishing regulations. As soon as these regulations are confirmed, the Minister would inform the Committee.
Mr D’sa replied about the small-scale fishing permits which were issued on 24 March to small-scale fishermen on the coastline. Applications for permits were in English which excluded Zulu speakers who were therefore unable to sign up. Permits that were granted were given only at the end of May. These permits expire at the end of June. The Department trained small-scale fisheries in KZN but did not continue this training. Small-scale fisheries are unable to sell their fish and are not supplied with food parcels. On the South Coast of KZN only one fisherman received a permit out of 300 fishermen.
Ms T Mchunu (ANC) asked if the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) represented are inclusive in terms of including deep rural small-scale fishing communities. She asks MDT to provide in writing the information on the attacks on small-scale subsistence fishers at the hands of park officials. She asked Mr Jaffer if the statistic of 47% successful small-scale fishers applicants was national or provincial. She requested the document containing this information. She asked for clarification on the term in-land fishing communities and for the statistics on these communities.
Ms T Tongwane (ANC) requested that all the representatives submit their submissions so that the Committee can approach the Department.
Ms N Gantsho (ANC) repeated this request for documents so that the Committee can make interventions and engage with the Department.
The Acting Chairperson repeated the request for written submissions from all the presenters to hold the Minister and the Department accountable on all the concerns which have been raised. She asked how the NGOs assist the fishermen when it comes to these concerns. She asked about the number of women involved with these NGOs. She also asked if the NGOs involve the youth as well as people with disabilities.
Mr Jaffer replied that the role of MDT as an NGO is to mobilise fishing communities at a local level and to create organisations for fishers and people who are directly connected to fishing. Women are primarily the ones responsible for the cleaning and selling of fish. MDT is community-based although it is registered as an NGO. MDT plays a facilitating role to build capacity within communities, to provide understanding to communities of their socioeconomic context and to skill them to do things better in fishing.
Mr D’sa replied that over 600 fisherwomen are part of KZNSFF. They signed up with the organisation and registered with Transnet in 2014. All this information will be included in the submission sent to the Committee by 7 June. The Ministry has been more forthcoming with information than the Department. Although the Ministry announced on Monday 1 June via press release that fishing is open, none of the small-scale fishers have been informed about social distancing or provided with protective equipment.
Mr Khan asked if Sea and Rescue officials could issue fishing permits and if they can implement the law on behalf of the Department. He asked for official clarification as this is what is happening.
Mr Singh replied that the regulations need to be sorted out. He hoped that the recent court case [declaring lockdown regulations unconstitutional] will not impact on the release of the regulations. He asked for directions from the Department about the regulations. The Minister will publish the regulations by Friday 5 June but he does not know what impact that will have.
The Acting Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
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