The department of fisheries began an informal process of consulting members of the fishing industry on possible amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998. The first of these informal consultations were held on Friday, 29 July 2012 in Cape Town.
Many members of the industry complained that the meeting was scheduled at short notice and it was unclear what the intended review and amendment process sought to achieve. What is clear is that certain amendments are required to accommodate the Small Scale Fishing Policy, which seeks to allocate fishing quotas to co-operatives and "fishing communities". Neither co-operatives nor communities are presently allowed to hold fishing rights under South African fisheries legislation. Fishing rights may only be allocated to individual South Africans and South African registered companies, close corporations and trusts. However, possible amendments intended to accommodate the Small Scale Fisheries Policy are misguided at this stage, as neither the department nor any of the policy protagonists (including COSATU) have any idea as to how the policy would be implemented.
Nonetheless, it is our view that the informal consultation process should be welcomed and the fishing industry is encouraged to participate fully by providing advice and suggestions on possible amendments to the MLRA. There are a raft of amendments that need to be made to the Fisheries Regulations as well, including ensuring compliance with South Africa's obligations as a signatory to the Port State Measures Agreement, addressing issues concerning shark management and finning etc.
What is plainly clear is that the Minister's stated intentions of implementing the Small Scale Fishing Policy by the end of 2012 is another false promise. Further, time has essentially run out for the department to effectively prepare for the allocation of long term fishing rights due for re-allocation in 2013, including small-scale commercial rights in the line fishery and hake handline fishery.
To effect legislative amendments to the MLRA, which are complemented by a policy and regulatory review process would normally take an efficient department led by a competent minister and full-time senior management team (and not a lot of acting senior officials) no less than 2 years to complete. Unless their intention is a vulgar hatchet job.