Thursday, September 12, 2013

Draft MLRA Amendment Bill before Parliament

The Marine Living Resources Act, 1998, Amendment Bill of 2013, has apparently been approved by Cabinet and is presently before Parliament. 

Feike has a copy of the Amendment Bill and copies can be emailed upon request. The Amendment Bill  presented to Parliament is completely different to the dog's breakfast version that was published on 25 April 2013 for comment. Feike's brief comments on the initial draft Amendment Bill can be read here.

The initial draft Amendment Bill was nothing more than a lesson in what constitutes appalling and amateur legal drafting and a lack of basic understanding of fisheries management. Everything from the poor use of (legal) language and formatting to the reckless removal of key provisions such as deleting reference to internationally accepted principles of sustainability and precaution. 

The Amendment Bill (reduced from 48 clauses to just 7 clauses) seeks to effect two changes to the current Marine Living Resources Act. Both amendments are political in nature and an anathema to responsible fisheries management.

First, the Amendment Bill it seeks to replace all reference to "subsistence fishing" with "small-scale fishing". Although this amendment sounds noble if not uncontroversial, it is fraught with problems and is gravely prejudicial to subsistence fishers. Feike's advice has been to avoid deletion of the subsistence fishing sector and instead to insert a new provision in the MLRA that specifically refers to "small-scale fishing". Not that this amendment is actually needed but because of rampant ignorance by the current crop of politicians and "cadre-deployed" civil servants, it appears to have become fashionable to state that South African fisheries has never "before recognised small-scale commercial" fishermen! Our retort has always been to ask who are the 2200 fisher folk presently working all of South Africa's small-scale fisheries such as lobsters, abalone, mussels, line fish, oysters, hake handline etc. 

Of course, one must accept that such a reality does not suit the current faction of the ruling party as it tries to create a false reality to convince voters and fishers that it is actually doing something. 

Besides the fact that reality is being ignored, by simply deleting reference to the category of "subsistence fisher" from the statute book, one is deleting the very real existence of more than 7000 subsistence fishers in rural KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. These truly subsistence fishers who harvest low value fishes predominantly for consumption, barter and some sale cannot simply be lumped in the same management category as small-scale fishers of the Western and Northern Cape provinces. These small-scale commercial fishers harvest high value species such as abalone, lobsters, hake and snoek which are either sold for substantial profit onto the domestic market or exported. In addition, small-scale commercial fishers are subjected to annual fish levies, permit fees and various onerous administrative obligations such as completing landing books and submitting these on a monthly basis to DAFF. These are costs and obligations that cannot be foisted on subsistence fishers in KZN and the Eastern Cape! 

Not to mention that many of these subsistence fishers harvest species that may not be lawfully commercially traded such as east coast rock lobster! But of course such "facts" are not relevant. 

Further, if DAFF is presently unable to even regulate and administer the 2200 small-scale fishers, how on earth will it administer an additional 7000 quota holders in far flung rural districts in the Pondoland and northern KZN? 

Second, the Amendment Bill seeks to give legal recognition to "co-operatives", which would allow such entities to apply for and hold commercial fishing rights. Feike's view has always been that co-operatives in the South African fishing industry must be avoided based on past experiences. 

Of course, for Tina Joemat-Pettersson and her cadres at DAFF, logic, history and past experience are things one scoffs at and ignores. And so they proceed to insist that a square is the best shape for the wheel despite evidence the world over that the circle works best. 

That said, we nonetheless are of the view that the proposed inclusion of "co-operatives" as set out in the Amendment Bill should not be opposed provided that small-scale commercial quota holders are not forced to only hold rights in co-operatives. Whether one wants to operate as a fishing co-operative must be a choice freely made. 

However, let us not forget that when the SACFC co-operative exploded into pieces and 3000 destitute fisherman converged on Parliament in 2003 demanding assistance and support from the portfolio committee, the politicians literally fled and abandoned the fishermen. When the co-operatives fail again, will Joemat-Pettersson and her cronies accept responsibility for their flawed decisions? And how will they redress the inevitable socio-economic harm that would have ensued? 

Timetable: What we do understand is that the Amendment Bill has been introduced into Parliament as a section 75 Bill. This means that the Amendment Bill must be voted on and supported by a majority of members of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The Bill must still come before the Fisheries Portfolio Committee and the NCOP Select Committee on Agriculture. Parliament's third term ends on 20 September (in 5 days' time). The fourth and final term starts on 7 October and ends on 8 November. At the very best, the Fisheries Portfolio Committee will be able to hold an initial set of public hearings on the Amendment Bill during the fourth term. The NCOP may also elect to hold public hearings especially since the Amendment Bill directly and seriously affects the rights and interests of 7000 subsistence fishers in rural KZN and Eastern Cape as pointed out above.

In other words, it is simply not possible that the Amendment Bill can be properly consulted on, debated by both committees of Parliament, voted on, certified by the state law advisor and then promulgated into law by the President before 31 December 2013 - ie within less than 38 working Parliamentary days. 

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