Update on programme to assist small-scale fisheries; with Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

01 June 2021
Chairperson: Mr F Xasa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In this virtual meeting, the Committee received an update from the Department of Environment, Forestry, Fisheries on the Programme to assist Small Scale Fisheries (SSF).

The Committee heard that besides the COVID-19 related restrictions affecting the facilitation and delivery of support interventions, staff capacity and limited funding were also part of the challenges facing the SSF industry.

The Committee was informed that the Department was granted an order on 24 May 2021 by the Western Cape High Court. The court granted the Department leave to serve papers on the affected applicants by publishing a notice in various newspapers and radio stations. Once service was completed the affected applicants have 30 days to file an opposition to the matter.  The Department is hoping to have the service completed by June 2021.

Members welcomed the progress of the court case; however they expressed concern about the timing. They asked ‘How do we ensure that the Western Cape is not left behind while this legal process is underway’?

Members asked for a definition of subsistence fishers; how far the process was regarding unfair beneficiation; if the Department would be able to achieve the targets set; the capacity of district municipalities to assist cooperatives and why the numbers of cooperatives in KZN and the Western Cape were low compared to the Eastern Cape.

Meeting report

The Chairperson greeted and welcomed everyone to the meeting and announced that this is the first formal meeting without Ms T Tongwane (ANC) who passed away. He thanked Mr P Modise (ANC), Ms S Mbatha (ANC) and Ms N Gantsho (ANC) for representing the Committee at the funeral.

Apologies were received from the Deputy Minister, Ms Maggie Sotyu and Mr N Paulsen (EFF).

Mr D Bryant (ANC) raised an issue regarding the postponed ESKOM and SASOL presentations due to a court case. He said his understanding is that the above-mentioned entities will present during the next session after coming from recess. He said that he is concerned that there is no date set yet and asked for feedback and finality regarding the presentation.

The Chairperson said that they will get the response to the concerns raised by Mr Bryant, but he was not sure about the timing of the response.

The Chairperson asked for a motion for the adoption of the agenda.

Mr N Singh (IFP) moved for the adoption of the agenda. He suggested that the ESKOM presentation be scheduled for the first meeting after recess.

Ms Mbatha seconded the motion for adoption of the agenda.

Committee Minutes
The Chairperson invited the Committee to consider and comment on the minutes of the previous meeting of the 25th May 2021.

The proposal for the adoption of the minutes was moved by Ms Gantsho.

Mr Singh seconded the adoption of the minutes. He offered his condolences on behalf of the IFP and his family to his colleague Ms Tongwane.

The Chairperson welcomed and handed over to the Minister Barbara Creecy to brief the Committee.

Briefing on the Update on Fisheries Programmes to assist Small-Scale Fisheries
The Minister expressed her condolences to Ms Tongwane’s family. The Minister introduced Ms Sue Middleton as the presenter. She highlighted that Ms Middleton has acted in her position for two years and she was appointed as the Deputy Director-General of Fisheries Management during a recent cabinet meeting.

Ms Middleton highlighted that the Small Scale Fisheries Policy (SSFP) acknowledges the general short-comings of fishing communities. It emphasizes the need for government to prioritize and facilitate support programmes in order to equip and capacitate the small-scale fishers. The Department has been engaging with various organisations such as other government departments, government agencies, NGOs and the private sector.

The Department reported on some of the interventions implemented.

The challenges faced by the SSF branch were:

-National Lockdown - The cooperatives had limited operations because their fishing rights were granted in March 2020, just a few days before the National Lockdown. The COVID-19 related restrictions also affected the facilitation and delivery of support interventions. The COVID-19 further impacted access to markets;
-Limited Funding from other government institutions due to reprioritisation of funds to COVID-19 related programmes;
-Limited infrastructure to further develop co-operatives;
-Staff Capacity - There are only seven permanent staff (Director and PA inclusive) to deliver on the SSF National Programme. The small number of staff contributed to the lack of services accessible to fishing communities and
-There were delays in the verification and recognition of SSF in the Western Cape.

(See Presentation)

The Minister asked Ms Vanessa Bendeman the Acting DDG for Regulatory Compliance and Sector Monitoring to offer clarity on the court case progress for SSF.

Ms Bendeman clarified that the Department was granted an order on the 24th May 2021 by the Western Cape High Court. The court granted the Department leave to serve papers on the affected applicants by publishing a notice in various newspapers and radio stations. The Department was also ordered to make copies of the applications available at the local fishery control offices by sending bulk SMSs and by the service of identified community leaders. Once service was completed the affected applicants have 30 days to file an opposition to the matter.  The Department is hoping to have the service completed by June 2021.  They are hoping to know the position regarding whether there will be opposition or not for the application. So based on the responses, Acting DDG said the papers will then be filed in response to the outcome.

Discussion
Mr Singh congratulated Ms Middleton on her new appointment. He thanked the presenter for making a lot of progress regarding SSF and mentioning subsistence fishers. He said that the meeting that is taking place this afternoon at Port Shepstone deals with the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Plan. He had requested Mr Themba Mnguni, Parliamentary Liaison Officer to send him the draft plan the previous day.

Mr Singh asked the Minister what the process will be after the public process. ‘Will the comments and draft recommendations come to the Committee for input’?  He highlighted that the amendments to the Marine Resource Living Fund Act and definitions of terms (e.g., recreational and subsistence fishers) were spoken about in the Committee. “I think it is very important because during the first Level 5 lockdown certain benefits were provided to some and not others” ‘How far is this process’?  He asked about the process of other participants establishing cooperatives in their areas. ‘Will this process be open’? He asked this because there were challenges with some fisheries coming and participating in the cooperatives.

Mr Singh asked about the capacity of district municipalities to assist cooperatives. He said that Ugu and iLembe municipalities were doing some work on that and in KZN there was no mention of the Northern District municipalities. He stressed that the KZN community of the Manguzi and Maputaland areas are amongst the poorest that relied heavily on fishing for subsistence.
           
Mr Bryant also congratulated Ms Sue Middleton on her appointment and said that he is looking forward to seeing progress under her leadership. He asked why the numbers of cooperatives at KZN and the Western Cape were low comparatively compared to the Eastern Cape. He highlighted that the numbers are low particularly in the Western Cape with the most significant portion of the fishing industries. 

Mr Bryant welcomed the progress of the court case but he is concerned that it will take a while. “Most of the things at the Western Cape seem to be on hold from the presentation’s perspective”. ‘How will issues be addressed in the interim at the Western Cape’? ‘How do we ensure that the Western Cape is not left behind while this legal process is underway’?

Mr Bryant asked when fishing permit applications would be processed.

Mr Modise also echoed a word of congratulations to Ms Middleton.  He said he is concerned about the current full staff (seven) capacity. Some of the mitigation strategies will be to hire new staff on a contract basis for two years. He asked if the Department will be able to achieve the targets set and discharge the mandate that has been bestowed upon this branch.

Mr Singh added that the Oceana group is referenced on Slide 8. ‘Is this “the Oceana group” that the Committee is aware of’? He has been getting some correspondence from a newspaper about the challenges with the ownership and BBBE status of the Oceana Group.

The Chairperson asked the presenting team to respond.

The Minister said that she is sure that there is only one Oceana Group and she does not want to comment on the ownership. She stressed that the ownership and the percentage of ownership are relevant for any company when applying for fishing rights. She highlighted to Mr Singh that the Aliwal Shoal process is not linked to the Fisheries processes. She added that the Aliwal Shoal falls under consultation of the Marine Protected Area and marine spatial planning which is under the Ocean and Coast branch.

The Minister reminded the Committee that it agreed that the amendments to the Marine Living Resource Act will be available next year and not this year. She stressed that the Committee will obviously be fully involved in the process. The Minister said that she interacted with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FishSA on the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System (SEIAS) issue and there was a misunderstanding amongst industry players with regard to the SEIAS process.  The SEIAS was understood to be a full-scale socio-economic study. She told the CEO that this process is an assessment to examine existing environmental policies in fisheries. The first objective of this process will be to ensure that there was sustainable use of the country’s fishing stock. The second objective of the Fisheries policy is to ensure that there is transformation in the fisheries sector. She added that the SEIAS policies checked whether the existing policies assisted the Fisheries branch to achieve the two objectives.  The Minister said that Ms Middleton met with the industry the previous day to explain the Department’s view of the SEIAS and the existing policies to the industry. She added that the CEO reported back and said that they are now clarified on the SEIAS process.

Ms Middleton thanked the Members for their good wishes regarding her new position.  She highlighted that there are two separate meetings occurring at KZN today.  The first meeting is on negotiations and consultations on MPAs. The second meeting is a virtual meeting with a group of fishermen in Durban called subsistence fishermen. She highlighted that she was referring to the second meeting in her presentation. This year the priority of the branch is to conclude the Fishing Right Allocation Process (FRAP) and the Western Cape Court issue. She highlighted that it is very difficult to preempt the review and outcome of a piece of legislation - she confirmed that it will be the subject of extensive public consultations. Regarding the definition of ‘subsistence fisheries’ , she said that they will look at it and advise on whether it can or should be accommodated in the amendments.

Ms Middleton said that the Oceana Group set up a training academy to provide support to small scale fisheries and various commercial fisheries. She was aware that a group of trustees had lodged a complaint regarding the payment of shares and other allegations. The Department has referred this complaint to the Competitions Commission for investigation. The Department is waiting for recommendations.

Ms Middleton said that there is a perception that most of the fishermen were in the Western Cape. “But if you look into the history of SSF by far the majority are in the Eastern Cape. The Western Cape fisheries are a little bit vocal and they certainly have tensions and conflicts within their communities. Therefore I think they get more media attention and coverage than their counterparts in the Eastern Cape and KZN”.  She highlighted that there is a plan in place to expedite the review of the process in the Western Cape. A service provider would be appointed to assist with capacity shortages. In the Western Cape everyone who is on interim relief dispensation and was previously recognised as SSF are granted permission to fish until the allocations for fishing rights for cooperatives is finalised.  She confirmed that there were delays and a backlog in the Western Cape in terms of two issues. The first one is a quick move to the online application for licenses and permits process prior to level one COVID-19 restrictions. The second factor was the migration of the IT and email domain in March from the previous Department of Agriculture to the new DFFE. She highlighted that those exemptions were given to the previous right’s holder to continue fishing on an old permit until June this year if they have proof that they have applied for a new permit. The exemption has been extended until the end of June this year.  In terms of capacity, The Acting DDG said that there was no budget for the creation of new posts. The Acting DDG said that they have created two posts additional to the establishment and advertised and interviewed for the vacant Director post -to be filled within a month.  She added that they have other officials not in small scale fisheries but in the other sectors called Fisheries Development Workers. The workers were directed to SSF branch to augment the existing capacity.

The Chairperson welcomed the appointment of Ms Middleton on behalf of the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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