South Africa has been subject to an increasingly unlawful and irrational harsh lockdown since 27 March 2020. We have been subjected to incredibly bizarre and irrational lockdown provisions, which have severely affected the fishing industry, including its largest component, the recreational fishing industry.
Recreational fishing has not been permitted under lockdown level 5 (27 March - 30 April 2020) and continues to be banned under lockdown level 4 (1 May 2020 - current). The basis of that decision is recorded in a directive dated 14 May 2020 issued by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. She records that -
"Given the health risks associated with COVID-19 and in alignment with the restrictions already implemented for public recreational activities in terms of the Regulations, recreational fishing is not allowed."
This directive completely contradicts the framework regulations which implemented the Level 4 lockdown regulations which explicitly allowed "ALL FISHING ACTIVITIES" to be pursued. Given that the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998, recognises "fishing" to include commercial, foreign, small-scale and recreational fishing, the Directive issued by the Minister on 14 May 2020 is unlawful as it contradicts a regulation. Ministerial "directives", as with policy, cannot overrule or contradict a prescribed regulation.
Furthermore, the justification for the ongoing prohibition of recreational fishing is irrational and nonsensical. The growing scientific and medical expert view is increasingly that the South African lock down regulations are unnecessary, arbitrary and unconnected to anything related to the prevention of the spread of a virus. For example, the regulations prohibit the purchase of certain clothes and retail products; prohibit exercising except during 3 hours each day (As if the virus is asleep during these hours!).
Although permitted to continue with operations, commercial fishing is depressed as international and local demand for seafood has nosedived around the world. There have been pockets of significant activity such as in the local linefishing sector with the recent snoek run, which was reportedly the best snoek run in recent memory.
The South African fishing industry has also demonstrated its incredible commitment to social justice during these trying times by making available thousands of seafood parcels to local fishing communities.