Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy will ask the high court to scrap the process of awarding small-scale fishing rights in the Western Cape, her department said in a statement.
“Based on legal advice, the minister will seek the review of the entire process of those who originally applied for all Western Cape communities,” said environment, forestry and fisheries spokesperson Albi Modise.
Modise said numerous steps will be taken by the department to minimise the impact of the court application on fishing communities in the province.
These would include bringing the application as quickly as possible, prioritising the new verification process and conducting it as swiftly as possible.
“These steps are aimed at shortening the period of impact. Importantly, the court application will request to maintain the current dispensation of providing access to fishing by fishing communities.”Modise said Creecy will ask the court to order that whatever form of access to fish communities and individual fishers have will remain in place until the new verification process is completed.In addition, Modise said the department is exploring ways to improve this interim relief dispensation that will apply during the court application process to ensure better and more equitable access for fishing communities in the Western Cape.
Modise said the Creecy’s decision to approach the courts followed multiple complaints from community members about the fairness and accuracy of the process.
The internal audit process was launched in 2019 and concluded that the verification process was “wholly inadequate” and that the “results of these assessments cannot and should not be relied on for any decision-making purpose in terms of the regulations”.
Among the errors identified, said Modise, were problems such as the inaccurate capturing of information and the incorrect adjudication of applications by community panels.
“There was inconsistent application of criteria between communities, an incorrect and incoherent application and appeals process as well as incomplete and inaccurate data, including lost applications,” Modise said. If the court application succeeds, registered individuals will have an opportunity to submit new information to support their applications.
Modise said: “While the minister understands that there are some communities who have no objection to the outcome of the verification process, these could not be singled out for different treatment given that the problems with the process are widespread that the only available option is to review the process for all communities in the Western Cape.”
In SA, between 90% and 95% of the small-scale fishers’ catch is destined for local consumption. Small-scale fishing contributed more than R3bn to GDP in 2019 and supported 15,000 jobs. Last year, when issuing 15-year fishing rights to 20 co-operatives representing 1,500 small-scale fishers at Kwazakele, in the Eastern Cape, Creecy said the fisheries sector is an important element of the oceans economy strategy and the battle against poverty, inequality and economic challenges.