Concerns over small-scale fishing permits

Photograph: Jason Boud

The announcement of the final list of Western Cape fishers to receive small-scale fishing permits is scheduled to be released in June or July, but some Hout Bay fishers are already raising concerns.

Earlier this month, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) gave an update on the small-scale fisheries implementation process, also pointing out that the small-scale rights allocation was scheduled for August this year.
Registration and verification of fishers per community was completed between March and August 2016, and announcement of the provisional list of successful fishers was completed in October 2016.

For more than 10 years, small-scale fishers have been operating under an interim relief policy, allowing them to fish while details of the small-scale policy have been ironed out. The process has been repeatedly stalled, something DAFF has often blamed on a lack of funding to support co-operatives.

However, Donovan van der Heyden, a Hout Bay fishers’ representative who has been part of the small-scale process from the beginning, believes it is flawed, and that many local fishers will lose out as a result.

“There were two meetings in 2016. At the first, a senior DAFF official said that anyone could apply for a small-scale permit. These people could be boat builders or factory workers. One of the main provisions was that they had to have been actively involved in the industry for the past 10 years, prior to interim relief,” he said.

“However, at a second meeting, another DAFF official told people, especially women, that they could not apply if they were not actually fishing on the boats or working for commercial factories. This meant that some women who had been awarded interim relief status would also be adversely affected for small-scale permits.

“Yet when the interim relief policy was rolled out in 2007, there were also some men and women who had not been active in the previous 10 years who received interim relief. This shows another discrepancy in DAFF’s policies.”

During that period of confusion and “chaos”, said Mr Van der Heyden, several breakaway groups had formed in Hout Bay, as fishers had jockeyed for the limited number of interim relief permits available, with the result that many fishers had been excluded from the process, yet permits had suddenly been awarded to non-fishers and people who had never been part of the industry at all.

“There was also terrible communication from DAFF. SMSes were supposed to have been sent to all fishers who had registered, but only some people received these notifications.”

Mr Van der Heyden also took issue with the verification process in 2016.

“The department informed us that 10 people from the community would sit on the verification panel. However, DAFF then changed that figure to seven people, but only five would actually do the verification.

“On that day of registration, which was held at the Hangberg civic centre, the names of people nominated to sit on the verification board were placed on a white board and allocated a number. People who were registered as applicants for small-scale permits were asked to write the number of their preferred candidate on the back of their registration receipts.”

Mr Van der Heyden claimed it had subsequently been found that some candidates had written their own numbers on the back of the receipts handed in as part of the voting process.

“There should have been equal representation of all divisions in the small-scale sector, but it turned out that there was only one representative from line fishing, one representative from the ‘illegal’ fishing sector and one non-fisher on the panel.

“At the end of the day, we only ended up with three people sitting on the verification panel. I withdrew as a candidate as I felt that this was not right. You couldn’t have three people representing an entire fishing community.”

The upshot, he said, was that when the provisional small-scale list had come out, many of the “legitimate” fishers had not been on it including some who had had interim relief for many years.

“I know that the department has had a lot of appeals and objections, which is why this process is taking so long, but the way it has been done is chaotic.”

Michelle Yon, who represents a group of some 20 Hangberg women who were not granted interim-relief status, described the situation as a “mess” and did not believe DAFF would stick to the schedules.

“There are not even real fishing people on the provisional list. I don’t believe there has been any progress at all,” she said.

“There are rumours that the minister (Senzeni Zokwana) is going to be replaced, so I cannot see the small-scale roll-out happening anytime soon. Nothing will happen until the department sorts itself out. I think this update is just paying lip service to the community.”

Not everyone has doubts about the small-scale roll-out, however.

Angelo Joseph, who sat on the 2016 verification board, said he had been concerned that the roll-out would be stalled as people in the community were talking about a new date of 2020. But he called the department which had then assured him everything was still on track.

“They told me everything was still in place. In fact, at Port Nolloth, fishers have already been put into co-operatives, and I was assured the Western Cape was also on course. It doesn’t make sense that the Western Cape would be stalled when small-scale is being rolled out in other provinces.”

Mr Joseph added the verification panel was elected democratically and was open to all candidates, whether they were from the legal or illegal fishing sector.

“Everyone who makes their hands wet (in the fishing sector) was part of the process,” he said.

Queries sent to DAFF on Tuesday were not responded to.