Monday, September 30, 2013

Fish For All BUT Where are the Fishing Vessels?

On 4 October 2013, applications for commercial fishing rights in 8 fishing sectors must be handed in. The fishing rights application process has been defined to date by substantial chaos, frantic deadline changes and no communication on key policy and process issues. Confusion and rumour have dogged the process to date. 

However, a key problem that we highlighted at the very start of this process is that by adopting a frantically populist approach that every tom, dick and harry has a right to fishing rights (epitomised by the fact that the application fee was zero-rated and that application forms were being handed out in renowned fishing towns such as Mthatha which more than 200km from East London which itself has relatively poor fishing infrastructure!) one would run out of fish or vessels. 

Of course the highly (unqualified) decision-makers at the Fisheries Department always new better. So while you can theoretically invite every tom, dick and harry to apply for fishing rights, in effort controlled fisheries (read "fishing vessel managed"), tom, dick and harry cannot simply obtain access to suitable fishing vessels. 

And this has been the case with this process. The last week has seen tom, dick and harry (and lots of sally's), running around like headless chickens desperately seeking "access" to "suitable fishing vessels" for line fish, squid, shark demersal or tuna pole. But, of course vessel owners, who themselves applying for the same fishing rights, are not going to allow a direct competitor access to their key asset. 

It has been rumoured that departmental staff have been telling prospective applicants that they can apply for fishing rights without a vessel! Well, of course you cant apply for an effort based fishing right without confirmation of the details of the vessel because - 

  • the fishing policies make access to a vessel a peremptory or "exclusionary" criterion. In other words, if you cant show that you have a right of access to a suitable fishing vessel your application will be excluded; and
  • without a fishing vessel, it is impossible to allocate fishing rights within the effort parameters determined in accordance with section 14 of the MLRA. These are effort controlled fisheries where the "size" of your right is determined based on your vessel. Period. 
In short, dont bother submitting an application if you do not have (at the very minimum) a signed catching agreement with the owner of a suitable fishing vessel and the requisite vessel documents. 

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