Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Draft Small-Scale Fisheries Policy: A Recipe for Failure

The publication of the draft small-scale fisheries policy recently for comment confirms what this blog and other commentators have been warning against. The lack of professional fisheries managers and institutional knowledge at the department of fisheries has resulted in the publication of a dangerously flawed draft small scale fisheries policy.

There are two fundamental and overarching flaws with the draft policy in our opinion.

The first flaw is that the draft policy pretends that the more than 2000 current small scale commercial (or artisinal) fishers that have a variety and - yes - basket of high value commercial fishing rights from abalone, lobsters, hake, net fish to oysters and mussels do not exist. The draft policy suffers from a misnomer that because the Marine Living Resources Act does not explicitly name "small-scale commercial" or "artisinal fishers" as recipients of fishing rights, they therefore have been completely ignored. In 2001, the South African government gazetted policy which explicitly recognised that the commercial fisheries of South Africa comprised a large scale industrial sector and a small-scale commercial (or limited commercial) sector which are small-scale commercial operators. In the 2005 General Fisheries Policy, the South African government further cemented its commitment to promoting and protecting small scale fisheries by, inter alia,

  • clustering all inshore, small scale commercial fisheries into a cluster of 8 high value fisheries including hake handline, lobster inshore, net fish, traditional line fish and oysters;
  • reserving access to these sectors to individual small-scale fishers who were vetted as small scale fishers by their very own communities through a public process of provisional rights lists overseen Deloitte; and
  • allocating a total of more than 2200 long term fishing rights to small-scale commercial fishers. This comprised 73% of all the fishing rights allocated.
This is not to say that all small scale commercial fishers that applied for fishing rights were accommodated. Indeed, the majority of applicants were of course refused fishing rights simply because the amount of fish available for allocation paled in comparison to the demand. The Department's draft policy seeks to accommodate those that are screaming loudly now but fails to recognise that the 2200 small-scale traditional fishers that are quietly going about their daily business of fishing and supporting more than 10 000 dependants directly cannot simply be wished away. Replacement of quota holders with those that are the loudest screamers today will only create another army of screamers tomorrow.

If the Department wishes to accommodate more small-scale commercial fishers the Minister has various options. She can of course ignore or amend the scientific advice provided to her and allocate larger TAC's in the small scale sectors which will allow her to allocate the additional quota (in terms of section 14) to new right holders. For example, could she not increase the inshore lobster quota east of Hangklip? Scientific advice must not be considered beyond question.

The Minister could also aggressively pursue a new fisheries policy and investigate the opening up of new fisheries that could create more jobs in the sector, attract greater levels of investment and of course provide her with the opportunity of allocating high value fishing rights to west coast and eastern Cape coast fishers. In 2004, Marine and Coastal Management had identified some 12 new fisheries. Perhaps the Minister could convince her advisers to dust off some of that research and start creating jobs and allocating more rights without taking rights away from existing small-scale operators.

The second and even more significant flaw is that the draft policy once again espouses the allocation of small-commercial fishing rights to co-operatives, trusts and "fishing communities". In terms of the Marine Living Resources Act, co-operatives cannot be allocated fishing rights and for good reason as the practice in South Africa and abroad has shown that they do not work! Further, the notion of the "fishing community" is a fallacy today. They might have existed between the 16th and mid 20th centuries but definitely not today as increasingly fluid populations migrate in and out of coastal towns, cities and villages undertaking various forms of economic activities.

Clearly, the department of fisheries is unaware of the social catastrophe that followed the financial plunder of the South African Commercial Fishing Corporation (SACF) which operated as a co-operative.

SACFC was allocated some of the most valuable and largest abalone, lobster, squid and hake quotas in the industry in 1998 after repeated calls by politicians and campaigners in the industry to empower "artisinal fishers". Essentially, there is no difference in the populist rhetoric then as we hear today! SACFC had 3000 members in 25 co-operatives along the West coast, southern Cape coast and Eastern cape coast. From the very start, the grandiose political promises about jobs for all co-operative members and wealth creation through quotas began to fade as less than 500 members saw any income from SACFC. And when they did see any income it was exploitative. For example, lobster fishers would earn about R20 for a kilogram of lobster with the balance of between R80 and R100 going to the "co-operative" - or as we now know into the pockets of board members.

By the time the 3000 members forced Parliament's portfolio committee on environmental affairs to hear their plight in 2004, the SACFC board had made off with million's of rand earned from the "paper quota" sale of their valuable quotas. SACFC was not allocated any long term fishing rights. None of the board members were forced to repay their ill-gotten gains to the fishers and none of the 3000 fishers received any form of reparations except that a number of them were allocated long term fishing rights when they applied as individual fishers in 2005.

What is deeply concerning to the small-scale commercial fishing industry along the west coast for example, is how committed government is to implement failed populist policies of the very recent past.

The failures of and problems with SACFC have been documented in various reports by UWC, Noseweek and of course parliamentary records of the submissions made by representatives of the 3000 fishers who were robbed of their livelihoods. Moreover, Naseegh Jaffer of the Masifundise Fishing Trust, in a 2004 High Court affidavit, stated that co-operatives (when referring to the failure of SACFC), large and small, are doomed to failure and that when government forces artisinal fishers to operate in these structures, conflict is inevitable. He is completely correct - co-operatives are doomed to failure.

Lets not ignore the costly social and economic lessons of our very recent past.

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