New angle for small-scale fishers


The Marine Living Resources Act, which was amended to pave the way for the recognition of small-scale fishers, aims to redress the inequality of that sector – this, after years of bureaucratic processes and consultation.

Craig Smith, the director for small-scale fishing at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), said before 2007, small-scale fishers were never given legal rights. In that year, the Equality Court served the department with a notice to change the system – to develop a policy with guidelines to implement a new sector. Before this, small-scale fishers, who mostly use traditional methods of fishing, and who often learnt their skills by way of it being passed on to them through the generations, were subjected to commercial fishing rights processes.

Said Mr Smith: “The previous process for small-scale fishers to acquire fishing rights, was a complicated one.

“The fishermen had to hire lawyers and accountants to help them fill in forms, as they did not have the competencies to do so themselves. This was not just complicated, but expensive as well.”

However, Ikeraam Halim, who represents small-scale and interim fishers from Hangberg, said although this policy looks good on paper, it sets too many limitations on small-scale fishers, which could “open doors for people to poach”.

He also questioned the time-frame of the implementation of this process, saying that the plan to have co-operatives running by June this year, is unrealistic.

“I understand the process, but the time-frame is unrealistic, as it has already fallen behind schedule. They were supposed to have a roadshow, to educate the small-scale fishers about the new policy, but this has not happened yet.

“It was supposed to be in the form of a three-phase meeting – to identify, verify, register and recognise small-scale fishers and communities.

“The policy sets too many limitations on small-scale and interim fishers. We will never be able to go on trawlers, we can only use small boats, and we can’t go into the deep sea. To make an example, Hout Bay is a marine-protected area, and this means that we will have to be five miles off the shore to catch Hottentot fish but our lines won’t even reach the ground if we have to go that far out with our small boats.

“Also, by giving commercial fishing companies a big portion of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), there will be nothing left for small-scale fishers.

“They say this policy is to alleviate poverty, but to me it looks like they are opening the doors for people to poach. And poaching is a survival thing. People do not get rich from poaching in Hout Bay. Scientists, doing their research and statistics decide how much the small-scale fishers are allowed – these scientist are not the ones who work on the ground – we are. I don’t think this policy is viable for the community. In Hout Bay we are between 500 and 1 000 fishers. What will the allocation be for us?” Mr Halim asked.

Harry Mentor, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the SMMES Fishing Forum, who made a submission on transformation in the fishing sector to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee in 2011, echoed Mr Halim’s concerns.

“The people have not been properly informed about the process. There has been no roadshow. Big business has already set us up, and it looks like the small-scale fishers are out of the window now – that is especially true for every black fisher out there. This policy allows for big businesses to take the bulk of the fish and there will be very little left for us, if any,” Mr Mentor said.

Mr Smith said that between 2007 and 2012, “extensive consultation processes” were held and the policy for the small-scale fisheries sector was adopted in 2012.

Another year was spent on developing guidelines to implement the new sector, and in 2013 a five-year implementation plan was adopted.

The Marine Living Resources Act adopted a bill, and the act was amended to develop regulations for the small-scale fisheries sector.

Earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma signed off the amendment and it is now a promulgated act which was gazetted on Tuesday March 8.

The amended act now means that small-scale fishers will get rights-based allocation, as opposed to commercial fishing rights (which is highly competitive). With this, however, the focus will also be on sustaining livelihoods and marine resources, as well as food security, according to Mr Smith.

In February last year, a process was also started where individuals had to register an Expression of Interest, by filling in a “single, simple form”, so that they can be registered on a database for verification. More than 280 fishing communities from four coastal provinces in South Africa have already registered. In the Western Cape, 89 fishing communities have registered.

The aim of this registration process, after a verification process, is to ultimately formalise small-scale fishing communities into co-operatives. These co-operatives will be granted fishing rights. The Expression of Interest registration drive closes on Thursday April 7, and all fishers are urged to register.

The small-scale fishers who registered their interest, must meet the following criteria: they must be a South African citizen, with original identification documents, must be 18 years and older, must have at least 10 years of accumulated traditional fishing experience, must reside in the relevant small-scale fishing community, and must be dependent on marine resources to meet food and basic livelihood needs.

“After all the verification has been done, a list of successful fishers will be published, and those not chosen would have time to appeal, if they choose to do so.

“After the final adjustment, the communities will be mobilised to form a co-operative, where a constitution will be developed, and all supporting documents will be sent for registration. Only one co-operative will be allowed for each community and training will be provided.

“After this, they then need to apply for an annual fishing permit. Owners of commercial fishing rights will not be allowed to be part of a co-operative. Government will be offering its support for up to five years, and we will also look at the auxiliary jobs around fishing.

“Examples of these alternative livelihoods, in order to diversify economic opportunities, include fish markets, recreational charters, experiencing Western Cape snoek on coals, and tourism, bait repairs, fixing nets and bait shops. There is a strong emphasis on social and economic upliftment in this process,” Mr Smith said.

When asked what avenue there is for individuals who do not want to be part of a co-operative, but want to continue fishing, Mr Smith said they will be subjected to the commercial fishing rights sector, which is very competitive. He warned that government will “clamp down hard” on small-scale fishers who do not comply.

“We are giving you legitimate access, and if you don’t comply, we will clamp down hard on you,” Mr Smith said.

The first verification of a community will take place in Langa today Wednesday March 30. For more information about the small scale fishing regulations, call the Share call number 086 000 3474, visit the DAFF website at or email Craig Smith at