NVFF Amendment Bill: adoption; Finalisation of commercial fishing rights allocations + conclusion of the small-scale fishing rights allocations and support programmes; with Minister and Deputy Minister

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

31 January 2023
Chairperson: Mr P Modise (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Tabled Committee Reports

The Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and Environment met with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) on a virtual platform to consider and adopt the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment bill (NVFF), and to be briefed on the finalisation of commercial and small-scale fishing rights allocations.

Before the commencement of the meeting, some Committee Members complained about the lengthy process to formalise the Chairperson’s position. They said that the delay would reflect badly on the Committee’s work as an oversight body. An Acting Chairperson was elected to chair the meeting in the interim.

During the deliberation on the NVFF Bill, Members sought clarity on change to its title, whether it was affected by the restructuring of the Department, the lack of clarity of the term “lessees” in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) section of the working document, as well as the implication of the Bill on the responsibilities of provincial governments. They raised the issue of the proposed amendments made to s24 and s25 of the Principal Act around penalties. They enquired whether that process could occur simultaneously and be included in the current amendment process.

The Department outlined its progress on finalising the commercial fishing rights allocation. As of 25 January, the Minister had completed phase 1 of the appeal process, and the Department was endeavouring to complete phase 2 -- which was related to the South Coast rock lobster and the traditional line fish appeals -- by the end of February. The Appeals Directorate had also commenced with the processing and administration of appeals in phase 3, and was endeavouring to complete the entire appeal process before the end of October. The Department would publish its progress concerning each phase of the appeals process on its website on an ongoing basis.

During their interaction with the Department, several Members expressed extreme concern with its fishing rights allocation, which they described as "a complete failure" that had caused significant damage to small fishermen in the sector. A Member highlighted the difficulty in assisting his constituent to apply and accused the Department’s system of being “full of errors.” Members criticised the Department for causing small-scale fishers to lose their jobs and income due to the fishing right allocation process. It was unacceptable that those awaiting the outcomes of their status should be deprived of their access to the ocean, even though fishing may have been their main livelihood for several generations.

Another issue raised was the assertion that big corporate players manipulated the system by using “fronting” to obtain fishing licences. The Department was asked to share with the Committee its transformation statistics for the current year, compared to those of the preceding year.

The Committee received a briefing on the progress of the small-scale fishing rights allocation and support programmes. During the discussion, Members asked about the abalone working group task team, the status of the previous contractor for the small-scaled fishing process, and the assistance that the Department provided to build capacity -- particularly the assistance provided to the OR Tambo district municipality and cooperatives. Members wanted to know why the presentation focused on the Western Cape, whilst statistics about small-scale fishermen in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) were hardly mentioned.

Meeting report

Election of Acting Chairperson

The Committee Secretariat indicated that Members must nominate an Acting Chairperson before it could conduct its business.

Ms N Gantsho (ANC) complained about the lengthy process to formalise the Chairperson position, which seriously affected the Committee’s work and credibility. How could the Committee conduct its oversight work while it had not even formalised its Chairperson’s position.

She then nominated Mr P Modise (ANC) as the Committee’s Acting Chairperson.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) endorsed the nomination.

Mr Modise accepted the nomination, and agreed to chair the meeting.

The Acting Chairperson welcomed Ms H Winkler (DA) to the Committee as a permanent Member, as Ms C Phillips (DA) had left to join the work of other committees.

He welcomed both the Minister and Deputy Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), Ms Barbara Creecy and Ms Maggie Sotyu.

National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment (NVFF) Bill finalisation

Presenting the NVFF Bill for consideration and approval, Ms Veounia Grootboom, State Law Advisor, asked if Members agreed with the Bill’s cover page,

Mr D Bryant (DA) proposed that procedurally, instead of waiting for Members to raise issues, the meeting should be conducted in a way that should there be an objection, they should raise the point. If they did not, the Committee should assume that they agreed with the content.

The Acting Chairperson suggested that since the Amendment Bill contained nine pages, the Committee should take it one page after another, instead of going through it line by line.

Mr Bryant and Ms A Weber (DA) agreed with the suggestion

No objection was noted on the cover page and page 2.

On page 3, Ms Weber sought confirmation of the new name of the Bill, since she was aware that the title of the Bill had been changed to the National Veld and Forest Fire amendment bill.

Ms Grootboom explained that what had been amended in the statute book was the Veld and Forestry Fire Act. However, this Bill was also giving the Act a new title, so moving forward, any amendment that would be made to the current Act would be known as the National Veld and Forest Fire amendment bill.

No objection was noted for Page 4 of the Bill.

On page 7, Mr N Singh (IFP) asked Ms Grootboom if the names of the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Energy should be retained, as they were to be replaced with their new names after the departmental amalgamation.

Ms Grootboom explained that those had been the names of those departments at the time of the executive consultation. The name changes and amalgamation afterwards should not make much difference because those departments had indeed been consulted.

The Chairperson sought clarity on specifically who the term “lessees” referred to.

Ms Grootboom indicated that she was uncertain whether it referred to lessees or a particular entity whose name was called lessees.

Mr Sibusiso Kobese, Director: Law reform and Policy Direction, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), proposed that those names be updated to reflect their new names.

Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General, DFFE, indicated that "lessees" in some cases might be referring to some plantations which had lessees who managed them.

Mr M Dlamini (ANC) suggested replacing "lessees" with "local communities."

Mr Bryant believed that the term needed to be clarified, as it was vague in its current form. For instance, it might need to be specifically indicated that those were lessees of state-owned land.

Ms Fatima Ebrahim, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, preferred retaining the names of the departments and stakeholders as they appeared in their current forms, because those were the names that had been given during the time when the consultation had occurred. She pointed out that it was not the amalgamated departments that had been consulted. Further, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) that Members discussed did not form part of the Act because it was just a supplementary document to assist people in reading the Bill.

Mr Kobese suggested inserting the clause “lessees as contemplated in the Act”. This would then include any persons in control of the land, whether it was contract or customary bound, or bound by specific legislation or court orders.

The Acting Chairperson agreed with the suggestion because it would otherwise cause confusion, since municipalities and departments could be lessees too, so the term “lessees” must be specific.

Mr Singh agreed to Mr Kobese’s suggestion.

Ms Tshabalala clarified that the Category A plantation lessees were the ones term “lessees” in the Act referred to. She agreed with everything suggested by the Members, legal officials and Mr Singh. Ms Mbatha also supported Mr Singh’s suggestion.

Ms Ebrahim had no issue with those changes made to the MoU, but emphasised that the A list of the Bill must reflect those changes. Ms Grootboom was of the same view -- that the only crucial changes were those that were made to the Act.

The Committee resolved to add “as contemplated in the Act” after the word “lessees.”

Ms Ebrahim suggested including in the MoU reference to the new amendment made to s1 of the Act, which replaced “mountain, veld and forest fire” with “veld fire.”

The Acting Chairperson affirmed that there was consensus on the use of “lessee” and “mountain fire,” and that these terms should be explicit so that people in future would clearly understand them when reading the Bill.

On page 8, the Acting Chairperson commented that cross-border fires would affect provinces, and enquired what was meant by stating that “there would be no implication on provincial government” in the document.

Ms Grootboom explained that the implication would normally mean any financial implication or liability for any organ of state. At the time, the Department had not envisaged any implication for provinces. However, it would now have to look out for the roles of provinces in the implementation process.

Ms Ebrahim agreed with Ms Grootboom’s explanation, and added that this implied the necessity for provinces to pass legislation. Her understanding was that although there was no implication, it did not preclude provinces of having a role.

The Acting Chairperson said that he hoped that once the Bill went into effect, provincial governments would not use that to exonerate themselves from their responsibilities.

He noted the absence of offences and penalties in the Bill, and sought clarity.

Ms Ebrahim referred him to s24 and s25 of the Principal Act, and explained that as the Department did not note any proposed changes to the Act, no amendment was being made to those two sections.

The Acting Chairperson disagreed, and said that he was aware that changes had been proposed to s24 and s25 of the Act.

Ms Ebrahim explained the correct procedural process to the Committee. Should it want to amend sections not tabled in the original Bill, it needed to seek permission from the National Assembly first.

Ms Weber asked if this process could be included in the process with which the Committee was currently busy, because it would otherwise have to start the work all over again, from public hearings, etc.

Ms Ebrahim responded that the issue had been brought up before, and she had requested the formal legal opinion to be distributed to Members. She highlighted that the forms of public participation could be adjusted, depending on the Committee. However, what should be highlighted and must take place was the permission of the National Assembly before the Committee could make any amendments.

Mr Bryant fully understood the sentiment about not wanting to go over the whole process of amending the legislation again. His concern was about the extensive public hearing participation the Committee had already undertaken for the current amendments that would delay the legislation process. Given the Bill’s importance, he did not think there should be any more delays. Further, he suggested the Committee should work with what it currently had, given that it was only one year away from the end of its term.

The Committee resolved that it should work with what it had, and not re-open the public participation process again.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) concurred with the Members’ view to go ahead and work with what they had, but he wanted to know the effect of not re-opening the hearings and its impact on accommodating those with different views on changing what had already been decided.

Ms Ebrahim explained that the public participation process conducted by Parliament must be considered rationally. It was also the responsibility of Parliament to review what was agreed and disagreed by each community in the country. Very seldom did everyone agree on what needed to be changed or how it needed to be changed. As long as the Committee satisfied the public participation processes, it felt it had made the necessary changes. Ordinarily, the changes would be changes made to the Bill that had been tabled, and then it would be fine.

She also urged the Committee to speed up pushing the Bill through because she had had discussions with the Department and the State Law Advisor, and her understanding was that some amendments were quite urgent and needed to be implemented as soon as possible.

Mr Nhlanhla Ginindza, Researcher: DFFE, said it was ultimately the Committee’s decision to either consider all those inputs that had arisen from the public participation process, or deal with what the Committee had and leave those other inputs in another process, or to have some put into regulations or another amendment. He recalled that there had been complaints arising from the public participation process on the sanctions relating to the costs around fires that were deliberately caused. That issue has been resolved and could be considered by the Committee at some other time.

Minister Creecy said the Department would not have objections to the Committee, suggesting a second round of new amendments to the Bill. However, given the extensive nature of the process, it would delay the current Amendment Bill, so she appealed to the Committee to pass the Bill as the Department needed those amendments very urgently.

Mr Singh agreed with Minister’s view.

The amendments were duly adopted.

The report on the NVFF Amendment Bill was also adopted by the Committee.

Fishing rights allocation process

Minister’s opening remarks

Minister Creecy said that her Department had conducted the fishing rights allocation process in 2022, and was now beginning its appeals process. As she herself was the appeals authority, she would update the Committee on the progress of the appeals process. She assured Members that all appeals decisions would be published publicly.

She said the Department had appealed to set aside the small-scale fishers' rights allocation in the Western Cape. It had now embarked on the process of the reallocation of those rights. She described the process as being quite a bumpy ride, as a number of stakeholders were at sea. The issue would be covered in more detail in the presentation.

Finalisation of commercial fishing rights allocations

Ms Sue Middleton, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Fisheries Management, DFFE, took the Committee through the presentation on the Department’s finalisation of the commercial fishing rights allocation.

The background and progress, as well as challenges of the allocation process, had been provided to the Committee.

The appeal process was described, and the appeals schedule and timelines were provided.

As of 25 January, Minister Creecy had completed phase 1 of the appeal process and was now steeped in phase 2. The Department was endeavouring to complete phase 2 of the appeal process -- which was related to the South Coast rock lobster and the traditional line fish appeals -- by the end of February. The Appeals Directorate had also commenced processing and administering appeals in phase 3 of the process.

The Department would publish its progress concerning each phase of the appeals process on its website on an ongoing basis.

The Department endeavoured to complete the entire appeal process before the end of October 2023.

See presentations attached for further details


Mr Paulsen said the whole fishing rights allocation process had been a complete failure and had proved once again that they had failed the fishermen of the country. He personally could corroborate and give evidence to the Department of a person he knew, whose application was rejected because it was said that she had not made the application fee payment. However, that person could prove that she had indeed paid the R11 000 application fee. He described the Department’s system as fraught with errors, and commented that no court would ever be on the Department’s side if one applicant was prejudiced in the process. He was of the view that the DFFE had never even considered those appeals. He accused it of having predetermined the types of applications that they would accept before the process. He criticised the Department and said that it, and all of its officials, should be fired for denying the people rights to the ocean.

Mr Bryant said that Members had noted the difficulty of talking to the people who approached them as parliamentarians. Some of those people had been fishing for generations, and now the whole process affected them, resulting in them being unable to fish for over a year. He recalled an incident where he talked to a man who had had to close his small factory that he had started as a result of this whole process, and he was a fifth-generation fisherman. His status was still waiting for his appeals to be processed. This process was failing people, and not enough had been done to assist them and recognise the negative impact they had experienced, especially traditional fishing families.

Mr Bryant understood that the Minister could not comment on appeals, so he directed the question at Ms Middleton about the KZN prawn trawl project. Although transformation in the sector was appreciated, but not looking favourably at an applicant who had an extremely high score and employed 500 people in his factory and brought in someone who scored significantly lower did not make sense. His concern was that the applicant who had been awarded the right may not fulfil their predecessor's obligations. He cautioned that such an approach would decimate that industry. He therefore questioned how the Department could just sit by and watch those small fishermen be destroyed.

Mr Singh shared the concerns as expressed by both Mr Paulsen and Mr Bryant. The Committee must ensure that process changes were made to mitigate possible negative risks for communities.

Mr Singh enquired about the commercial fishing right licences, and the type of independent audits done to prevent fronting. He expressed his concern that large companies that belonged to the past were manipulating the system to get fishing licences granted to them.

Ms Weber asked the Department where those people waiting for licences and appeal outcomes got their incomes from, since this was their livelihood. She reminded it of the socioeconomic challenges of many fishermen. She asked the DFFE to confirm if the manual system still operated in addition to the online system it had just mentioned.

Ms Gantsho agreed with her colleagues that there was a lot of fronting in the fishing industry.

She asked the Department to share the transformation statistics for 2020 so that Members could make a comparison.

Ms Winkler remarked that she last served on the Committee two years ago, and her impression was that the Department had been rehashing the same issue for two years. It showed that the Department had not taken and internalised the various feedbacks. She suggested the Committee should closely monitor its progress in implementing inputs made by the Committee and stakeholders.

DFFE's response

Minister Creecy expanded on the appeals process, and said that the reason for having an appeals process was to correct errors in the initial process. When an applicant entered the process, the Department did a new scoring for every person who appealed. The process also looked at everything that was raised in the appeals.

Minister Creecy noted the inputs that were made by the Committee and members of the public. She acknowledged that the line fish sector was repeatedly one of the fixed sectors on allocations. It was precisely for this reason that she had instructed the Department that this sector must be dealt with in phase two. She understood the significant community hardship which fishermen were experiencing. Although she could not promise that those excluded would be guaranteed a reallocation of fishing rights, she could promise that every single appeal would be looked at in its individuality.

She explained that fishing resources were under stress due to both historical fishing practices and natural phenomena such as climate changes, which impacted ocean currents and fish migration. The consequence of the limited fish resources was that it could not sustain the continuation of bringing new players into the industry unless there were reduced quotas for those historically in the sector, because there were no more fish to be allocated in the ocean. Since it was imperative to adhere to the transformation process, there was nothing else the Department could do on its side. However, she expressed her concern for the line fish sector.

Ms Middleton said she could not respond to Mr Paulsen’s and Mr Bryant’s questions, as they related to appeals which did not fall under her jurisdiction.

She commented on the issue of ”fronting,” and said that what the Department was concerned with was not only about fronting, but that there were paper rights holders who had no intention of ever investing in the sector. However, the Act did give the Department the right to revoke the right under such circumstances. That was also why the Department had an anonymous tip-off line, whereby any member of the public could provide it with such information. Should such a situation be reported, it would initiate the forensic investigation process before it took steps to revoke the right.

Ms Middleton responded to Ms Weber that it was unfortunate that those fishers whose fishing rights were pending the outcome of appeals could not be allowed to fish. The DFFE was adamant on that, because should a precedent be opened, then it would exceed the total allowable catch (TAC), which was equally bad fishery management. She asked for the Committee’s understanding and support to allow the appeals process to run its course. She pointed out that it was inevitable that there would be people whose outcomes would be unsuccessful, because the reality was that the Department received more applications than it could accommodate.

She said that fishing rights were being allocated in nine fishing sectors. She assured Members that they should not be concerned with the technology part of the online system, because the majority of the nine sectors were highly sophisticated and had no challenges with the online system at all. The only sector that would experience such a challenge was the traditional line fish sector. To assist the sector, the Department set up ten de-centralised centres with officials on the ground to help the communities in the sector with their appeals.

Ms Middleton indicated that she did not have the statistics for comparison of the transformation profile of 2021 against the current one. She said such information could be submitted to the Committee in writing.

The Acting Chairperson asked the DFFE to indicate the projected time frame before it could conclude the appeals process.

Minister Creecy referred him to the presentation, and specifically highlighted that the Department aimed to complete the whole process by the end of October. Further, each sector also had a specific time frame. The Department was now focusing on phase 2, which included the line fish sector, where small-scale fishermen were experiencing the bulk of the hardship. The Department planned for this process to be concluded by the end of February.

Mr Bryant asked the Minister if the statistics around the impact on jobs and employment in the sector as a result of these new allocations would form part of the evaluation of the socioeconomic impact assessment study.

Minister Creecy clarified that the fishing rights allocation process was based on fishing policies. The general policy did go through the assessment, and Statistics South Africa collected the statistics.

Small-scale fishing rights allocations and support programmes

Ms Middleton took the Committee through the Department’s progress on the small-scale fishing rights allocations and support programmes.

The presentation covered the following issues:

  • Implementation of the small-scale fishing (SSF) process in the Western Cape (WC);
  • Distribution of verification forms;
  • Towards SSF rights allocation in the WC;
  • Basket of species;
  • Summary of progress on support programmes to date;
  • Plans to expand support

(See attached document for details )


Mr Bryant asked Ms Middleton about the abalone working group task team -- if members of that sector and local communities would be involved. He also wanted to know which areas of the country the Department was focusing on for the ranching of abalone.

He wanted the DFFE to confirm if its previous contractor, employed to undertake a small-scale fishing process in the Western Cape, had been blacklisted and prohibited from doing business with the state again.

Mr Paulsen enquired about the criteria used in determining and declaring an area to be a protected area.

Mr Paulsen asked about the training and capacity building assistance that the Department provided. Was this being provided to people who had access to fish or were hoping to be given access to go fishing?

Mr Singh was of the impression that the given statistics were related only to the situation in the Western Cape. Very little information had been given about the Eastern Cape. He therefore wanted to know if the Committee would be provided with a presentation at some stage about the process for small-scale fishermen, particularly subsistence fishermen in KZN.

Ms Gantsho wanted the Department to provide more details about its support to the cooperatives in the OR Tambo municipality and other district municipalities. How many cooperatives had received business and entrepreneurship training, and where was the training provided? She also requested a status report on the East Coast rock lobster project and its goals and objectives.

DFFE's response

Ms Middleton replied to Mr Bryant’s abalone question, indicating that the Department was holding a one-week workshop on abalone. Its main focus would be to develop anti-poaching strategies, but it would also touch on various other aspects of the abalone fishery industry. It would be taking place from 27 February to 3 March in Stellenbosch. The Department was working with Operation Phakisa, FishFORCE and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who were also offering financial support to communities so that they could to attend the workshop. There would also be a number of work streams dealing with different aspects of fisheries.

Mr Abongile Ngqongwa. Deputy Director: Small-Scale Fisheries Management, said abalone ranching in the Eastern Cape primarily covered areas all the way down to Jeffreys Bay as part of the fishing rights which the Department had allocated in 2020. During that process, abalone ranching was part of a basket of species. Furthermore, part of the Western Cape had also been earmarked, such as the area around Kleinmond. The Department was also exploring an opportunity to extend the abalone ranching area to the Northern Cape.

He assured the Committee that there was a legal process to deal with the previous contractor. The Department had noted that the entity had submitted a complaint to it, but said it was dealing with the process to ensure that whatever needed to be done to defend the position of the Department was in place. He had noted that as a Department, they needed to put measures in place to ensure that this service provider was not doing business with it again.

Mr Ngqongwa explained to Mr Paulsen that a number of marine protected areas (MPAs) had been set up in such a way that allowed small fishermen to fish within them where regulations allowed.

He said the training was mainly focused on ensuring that cooperatives were capacitated to run businesses in the form of a cooperative within the fishing sector. This training had been provided to all the cooperatives that had fishing rights. The purpose was to ensure that these cooperatives were sustainable. The socioeconomic baseline study which the Department undertook indicated that cooperatives were not able to be sustainable in the absence of the support that was provided by other partners and government.

Mr Ngqongwa replied to Mr Singh that the reason why statistics showed only the Western Cape was because it was the only province lagging behind, and the Department was providing all possible assistance to help it catch up. He said the Department worked closely with provincial departments and local municipalities in KZN, since a lot had been happening on the ground. Furthermore, it had announced that a task team had been formed between the Department and the KZN subsistence fishers. As a result of that task team, a number of engagements took place. A lot of issues were resolved after people had been provided with the necessary information on what subsistence fishing meant. As a task team, it was still in the process of identifying the people who needed access to fish in KZN, but had not been included in this process, and had a specific road map on how to get to that point. Also, the Department had identified a drive to introduce people to small-scale fishing. As a result, it provided clarity on the definition of small-scale fishers and how subsistence fishers were featured within small-scale fishers' category. Overall, the task team worked quite well. Through the assistance of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Department also launched a study in which it was exploring access to fishing at the east and north piers.

Mr Ngqongwa told Ms Gantsho that the Department would provide information on the various types of support it had provided to small-scale fishers. In fact, it had been working on that for a very long time. It had launched and presented fishing rights to 53 cooperatives in the Eastern Cape, and a similar project had also been launched in the OR Tambo municipality in Mthatha. Those things he mentioned showed that there was a concerted effort among different officials and organisations to provide support to small fishers. In the previous quarter, about eight cooperatives had received refrigerated containers. In addition to the OR Tambo municipality which the Member had enquired about, there were other municipalities such as Port St Johns which also provided fishing equipment to the fishing community in the area.

He said that the Eastern Cape rock lobster was a highly valued species, and potentially had a much higher value than the West Coast rock lobster. The difficulty was with the limited access to fishing grants and markets, as well as the condition of the roads. To deal with those issues, the Department commissioned a business study to explore how it could assist in improving accessibility to the species. The study was currently in its piloting stage, and the Department was optimistic that it would have a specific business model in due course.

Ms Mbatha asked the Department how many of the community members who were part of the 2005/2006 court action had since died without being allocated small-scale fishing rights in the Western Cape. She wanted the Department to indicate what sort of justice it was considering for such households.

Were women, youths and persons with disabilities factored into the small-scale fishing rights allocation process in the Western Cape? She noted that those populations had previously been disqualified because of certain qualifying criteria.

Mr Ngqongwa responded that 169 people had since deceased. Small-scale fishing policies recognised that once a community was declared, it always retained the same status and the status could not be un-declared. The Department understood that individuals in communities evolved within the cooperative, but there was a by-law of the constitution of each cooperative which outlined the beneficiation of deceased cooperative members. Hence, it was at the discretion of the cooperative to determine the beneficiation of the family of a deceased member.

He said it was the DFFE's position that the participation of women, youths and persons with disabilities should not be left behind. In fact, every cooperative needed to specify how those people’s interests would be promoted in the cooperatives. He therefore denied that there was ever a negative criterion that excluded women, youths and persons with disabilities.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.


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