Small-scale commercial fishery sector & aquaculture development; with Minister

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

24 May 2022
Chairperson: Ms T Modise (ANC, North West)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment briefed the Select Committee on the Department’s position regarding establishment of a small-scale commercial fishery sector. The meeting took place on a virtual platform.

The Small-Scale Fisheries Policy (SSFP) was developed as a response to an Equality Court order in 2007. The court order compelled government to redress the inequalities suffered by traditional fishers who conducted fishing and fishing-related activities for many years as part of their livelihood, but were generally marginalised. Since the Marine Living Resource Act (MLRA) was amended to accommodate the small-scale fishing sector, much progress has been made in rolling out the small-scale fishing sector.

Challenges affecting implementation included funding, limited basket of species, delays in the Western Cape and demand for reconsideration of “subsistence” in KZN. The industry remains in its infancy as it experiences challenges in certain key areas

The Department also presented its small-scale aquaculture support programme framework.

During the discussion, Committee Members asked about the Social Economic Baseline Survey for small-scale fisherpersons; the difference between small-scale and subsistence fishermen; the feasibility of farming Barramundi in South Africa; the ongoing case for fishing rights in the Western Cape; the Department’s assistance for small-scale fishing persons to expand its market; and the Department’s recent meeting in Durban Central with those who demanded to be recognised as subsistence fishermen.

Committee Members also asked for clarity regarding if all small-scale fishermen had to join a cooperative to be recognised by the Department.

Members asked if the Department’s partnership with local government to work on infrastructure would be in contravention of the Constitution.  They asked about women’s crucial role in the fishing industry and if it has been undermined, if women are being discriminated against in the industry; and asked about transformation to allow more black entrants to participate in the industry.

They urged the Department to provide more support for small-scale fisherpersons,
Members suggested capacitating the Department to better enforce the implementation of its small-scale fisher policy and other regulations.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed Members of the Select Committee, officials from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and other interested stakeholders, such as the media, to the meeting.

Minister’s opening remarks
Minister Barbara Creecy, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, apologised to the Committee as she presently received a notification to attend a meeting at the Presidency without delay. She designated Mr Ashley Naidoo, Chief Director: Oceans and Coastal Research, and Mr Abongile Ngqongwa, Deputy Director: Small-Scale Fisheries Management, to address the Committee on her behalf.

Minister Creecy said the presentation would cover details of the activities which the Department has undertaken to support small-scale fisheries, addressing the concerns Committee Members had around this issue. The Department has so far granted a fifty-year fishing right to about 10 000 small-scale fisherpersons’ in the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

Minister Creecy told Committee Members the Department understood the pending issue around the fisherpersons’ in the Western Cape is a concern, and the Department will be able to conclude the matter within the current financial year.

DFFE solutions in the establishment of a small-scale commercial fishery sector
Mr Ngqongwa said the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy (SSFP) was developed as a response to an Equality Court order in 2007. The court order compelled government to redress the inequalities suffered by traditional fishers who conducted fishing and fishing-related activities for many years as part of their livelihood, but were generally marginalised. In 2013 the SSFP Implementation Plan (IP) was finalised. The IP estimated a five-year process and a total budget of R424 million.

Accordingly, the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) had to be amended to accommodate the small-scale fishing sector. Since the Act was amended to accommodate the small-scale fishing sector, much progress has been made in rolling out the small-scale fishing sector. See presentation attached for a breakdown of declared small-scale fishers (SSF).

Looking at the SSF sector in more detail, majority of applicants are male, averaging 44 years in age and majority classified as previously disadvantaged ethnic groups. The majority of respondents in each province are mainly dependent on fishing for more than 50% of their income.  Large dependency on government grants (32-45%) and limited involvement in other forms of economic activity. ~80% of respondents living under or close to the poverty line of R1558 pm. Low literacy levels and yet they have to operate co-operatives, which demands certain skills

Mr Ngqongwa detailed the objectives and principles of the sector.

Overall challenges of the sector:
-The SSFP recognises the general shortcomings of SSF communities;
The SSFP emphasises the need for government to prioritise and facilitate support programmes;
-Socio-economic baseline surveys were conducted and emphasised the need for a coordinated support strategy;
-Need for SSF to meaningfully contribute to the goals of the National Development Plan, Medium Term Strategic Framework, MLRA

See presentation for Department interventions

Small-Scale Aquaculture Support Programme Framework
Ms Andrea Bernatzeder, Director: Aquaculture Research, briefed the Select Committee on the small-scale aquaculture support programme. The aquaculture sector has the potential to contribute to food security, poverty alleviation, rural livelihoods improvement and reduce pressure on wild capture fisheries. The industry remains in its infancy as it experiences challenges in certain key areas such as access to funding, suitable markets, data collection and record keeping, human resource development, technical expertise, and legislation.

See presentation for details on the framework and implementation plan,

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) asked the Department when the survey for small-scale fishers was circulated and when the survey had been concluded. She said if the survey had been done quite some time ago, then she would like to know if the situation had changed now for the better or worse.

Ms Labuschagne asked about the challenges of the implementation of small-scale fisheries. The presentation mentioned strengthening the partnership with local government through the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). She asked for clarity regarding the nature of this partnership and asked if there would be direct funding for infrastructure. She was concerned about such partnerships being in contravention of the schedule mandates, as set out in the Constitution.

Ms Labuschagne asked the Department to review the Marine Living Resources Amendment Act and the inclusion of subsistent farmers. She wanted the Department to explain the distinction between small-scale fishermen and subsistent farmers. She asked if the distinction would be applicable to coastal provinces other than the KZN.

Ms Labuschagne wanted confirmation from the Department regarding if every small-scale fisherman must join a cooperative to be legally recognised.

Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) recalled the Committee’s study tour to Australia on aquaculture and asked the Department to give an explanation on why Barramundi cannot be farmed in South Africa, given it is a fast-growing and easy-going fish species.

Mr A De Bruyn (FF+, Free State) noted the challenges which the Department faced in the implementation of regulations and the enforcing of quotas. He asked if the Department has considered broadening itself to ensure proper enforcement of quotas.

Mr De Bruyn commented on the many failures and subsequent waste of public funds resulting from cultivating fish in the aquaculture area, as fish farming involves a lot of complex factors and conditions. He said he sincerely hoped such failures would not be repeated.

Mr A Arnolds (EFF, Western Cape) recalled the numerous times the Committee had specifically noted concerns about the lack of support given to small-scale fishers. He urged the Department to get its house in order because the fishery sector is an important sector. There must never be an impression of the Department as an enemy of fishing communities.

Mr Arnolds said the number given in the presentation does not correspond to the important role women are actively playing in the fishing industry. Women are at the receiving end of discrimination in this sector.

Mr Arnolds urged the Department to try and conclude the pending case on fishing rights in the Western Cape. Fisherpersons already had to endure the loss of income from COVID, and now this policy uncertainty was making the livelihoods of fisherpersons unbearable.

Mr Arnolds noted the complaints from members of cooperatives about cooperatives not benefitting from this plan at all. He asked the Department what it is doing to address these complaints.

Mr Arnolds was aware of the limited infrastructure support which many fishing communities have to battle every day. He asked the Department if it is doing anything to assist in this regard.

Mr Arnolds wanted to know what assistance the Department has provided to small-scale fisherpersons to get expanded access to markets.

Ms L Bebee (ANC, KZN) asked the Department to provide more detailed information on the various options presented to the people in Durban Central. More specifically, she wanted to know who the people were who were demanding to be recognised as subsistence fishers.

Ms Bebee asked the Department what measures it had in place to ensure black people got fishing rights. She asked about the Department’s plan to review its allocation system, and suggested the Department take some rights away from certain fisheries companies to benefit new black entrants in the industry.

The Chairperson noted the time constraints and as she had ten questions, she said she would be sending those questions to the Department in writing.

Ms Bernatzeder confirmed the Department has had requests regarding farming in Barramundi, but those requests were more commercial oriented. The Department conducted a risk assessment but did not follow through. Any species which is good for aquaculture may also pose a risk of an alien invasive issue which could endanger local species. It is one of the challenges that South Africa faces. The research also focuses on the production and creation of technology for indigenous species. Farming in Barramundi is an option, but it should be done on a commercial level in a controlled environment.

Ms Bernatzeder told the Committee the recent Xhariep upgrades conducted to the facility there, largely focused on improving efficiency, such as re-circulating water to improve heating, and energy efficiency. Another key focus area was around the training of farmers, provincial officials, departmental officials, and researchers.

Mr Ngqongwa said the Social Economic Baseline Survey was conducted in the 2016/17 financial year. The rationale for conducting the survey was to enable the Department to better understand how the cooperatives could move forward in future. Many of the decisions which the Department made after this, was informed by this study. The Department was planning to review the outcome of the survey, given it was the initial intention to do a review after five years.

The review process had to be delayed because of COVID-19. There were definitely changes in those five years, based on the operations in a number of cooperatives that the Department had witnessed, for instance, the Department noticed the Eastern Cape Black Fishers Cooperative and the Eastern Cape Khoisan Cooperative, both had more than R1 million in its accounts. This was an indicator to show the progress made within those five years. It was therefore necessary to conduct another Social Economic Baseline Survey.

Mr Ngqongwa noted the difference between subsistence versus small-scale operations as follows: Subsistence operations were limited to fishing for food consumption or to better fishers’ communities. Subsistence operations did not allow fishermen to sell fish for commercial purposes, whereas the scope for small-scale operations ranged from fulfilling food security to full-blown commercial operations. At this point, there were no subsistence fisheries, as most of the activities of subsistence fisheries also covered the activities of those which fall under small-scale fisheries.

Mr Ngqongwa told Ms Labuschagne all declared small-scale fisheries must be members of a cooperative, as required by the Marine Living Resources Amendment Act, 2013. At the time of the Amendment Act, there was an overwhelming view that cooperative was a better model than any other type of community-based entities.

Mr Ngqongwa said the decision to adopt a cooperative was also being benchmarked against other international practices and the finding still supports the view that a cooperative is the best model. Like any other small businesses in South Africa however, the chances of success for those cooperatives are low. The Department therefore has to step in to provide the necessary support.

Mr Ngqongwa noted Mr Arnolds’ comments, especially regarding women being discriminated against in the fisheries sector. He assured Mr Arnolds the policy dictated the promotion of the interests of women, children, and people with disabilities as a priority. There are various fishing processes which include the pre-harvesting phase, the harvesting phase, and the post-harvesting phase. Usually, the activities in which women are heavily involved are in the pre and post phases. Mr Ngwongwa agreed there is a need for the Department to do more to promote the interests of women in the fisheries sector, such as recognising women’s value addition and expanding women’s access to the market.

Mr Ngqongwa told Mr Arnolds the pending Western Cape process is difficult to pin down and it was difficult to give members a direct response. This was because the Department was still waiting on the allocation of the soonest date for the Minister to appear, to present the Department’s case. As for now, the matter stands un-opposed. The Department believed the case would go quickly. Once the court process has been concluded, the Department would go to all those communities in the Western Cape to facilitate the registration, verification, and declaration of small-scale fishers. All the unsuccessful applicants will also be given an opportunity to appeal after the declaration process. Once the list of small-scale fishers is finalised, the Department will formalise it into cooperatives and provide a two-day workshop for every cooperative. The Department will assist with the applications for fishing rights.

Mr Ngqongwa referred to the Department’s activities to help small-scale fishers to expand their access to markets, and said the Department had undertaken studies, together with communities, and has built a business case from the context of the Eastern Cape and KZN. The purpose of the study is to build a business model which can assist fishers to expand its access to markets. The Department is currently planning to undertake a pilot project based on this business case, to be able to replicate this model in other regions. Also, the Department is working with other cooperatives in Coffee Bay to establish a fisheries harbour.

Mr Ngqongwa pointed out the issue of access to infrastructure remaining a big challenge, with limited proclaimed fishing harbours. Operation Phakisa has been able to establish more fisheries harbours, such as those in Coffee Bay and Port St Johns, but there is also the issue of the mortality rate for fish during the long transportation. Many fishing communities were situated in remote areas and the lack of access to infrastructure, such as well-conditioned roads meant fish such as lobster could die during the process. To address this, the Department was also working with municipalities to improve basic infrastructure.

Mr Ngqongwa mentioned the number of fishing equipment, such as containers, being used for fish processing, and said it also adds value to products. The Department’s observation in the Western Cape is, that there is manipulation by certain marketing companies which is dividing various fishing communities. The Department is thinking of mediating and regulating the relations between fishing communities and those marketers.

Mr Ngqongwa gave more details to Ms Bebee’s question on what had transpired in the Durban Central meeting with people demanding to be recognised as subsistence fishers. From 2016 until now, the Department had been to all those communities which had expressed an interest in becoming small-scale fishers. In the KZN province, the Department had visited communities from the South Coast such as Port Edward, to the northern part KZN, Durban Central. The Department did not note much enthusiasm in Durban Central. There is indeed a large number of individuals operating as recreational fishers, who want to buy permits at local offices. Since the national lockdown prescribes fishing as an essential service, but such fishing activities exclude recreational fishing, those recreational fishers want to buy permits to be able to fish again. The Department told these fishers they could either become subsistence fishers or the Department can review if these fishers meet the criteria to be declared small-scale fishers. Then the Department would have to put these fishers into cooperatives. There is still a meeting which is to be held with the fishers in Durban Central.  

Mr Ngqongwa said the Department is in the process of reviewing the fishing rights allocation to black people as new entrants. The Department’s allocation of fishing rights to applicants was informed by a number of policies, of which all the objectives were aligned to the monitoring and measuring of transformation in the fishing sector. There are some areas where fishing rights have not been given to new entrants because of limited resources. Small-scale fishing, as a method, addresses the equity issue and provides fishing opportunities to the previously disadvantaged population.

Mr Ngqongwa said the Department was looking forward to providing written responses to the Chairperson’s questions.

The Chairperson reminded the Department its focus should not only be confined to coastal areas, and it should be looking at other provinces which have big dams too since there are also fish in those dams.

The minutes of the meeting dated 17 May 2022 were considered and adopted.  

The meeting was adjourned.


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