Over the course of the past 2 days of initial public hearings on the proposed Marine Living Resources Act, Second Amendment Bill (2013), the fisheries portfolio committee clearly sought direction from those presenting comment and opinion on the appropriateness or otherwise of the content of the Amendment Bill.
As one would expect, the portfolio committee was subjected to a lot of political rhetoric. Then there were also cogent pleas from fishermen recounting the failed SACFC co-operative project in South Africa's recent past. Others spoke of the virtues of co-operatives and how these would summarily address coastal poverty and the lack of access to fishing but without providing any examples or proof of this.
So how is the Portfolio Committee to step forward responsibly and eventually adopt an amendment bill that will not cause massive harm to the South African fishing industry and to its small-scale and subsistence fishers?
Our presentation to the Portfolio Committee focussed on assisting in providing such guidance.
Firstly, with respect to the proposed inclusion of co-operatives in the definition of "South African persons" under section 1 of the MLRA, our contention is that such an expanded definition cannot be objected to on technical or legal grounds as South Africans should have the choice of utilising the vehicle they believe most suitable to their needs when holding fishing rights. Co-operatives cannot be forced on the small-scale fishery sector as the only entity that may qualify to hold fishing rights.
Indeed, if the "co-operative" is the most virtuous and appropriate vehicle for "fishing communities" to hold fishing rights (as espoused by the protagonists such as COSATU, Masifundise etc), then of course one need not foist such structures on people as they will logically choose such an entity.
However, the Portfolio Committee is duty-bound to act responsibly and on the best available information. In this regard, does the Portfolio Committee fully understand why co-operatives have previously failed in South Africa? Why did South Africa's largest and most infamous co-operative fail so spectacularly? What was the socio-economic fall-out? How was government able to assist? Can such a spectacular failure be averted and what checks and balances could be included in the Amendment Bill to avert a repeat of such a catastrophe?
Further, with respect to the present "trial co-operatives" such as the Ukondleka Secondary Co-operative in Doringbaai that manages more than 16 tons of lobster worth more than an estimated R6 million annually (market value), have these succeeded in the meeting the department's two principal stated objectives for punting these types of entities, namely resource protection and poverty alleviation? For example, has there ever been a socio-economic study comparing incomes and social well-being before the co-operative began operating and at present - some three years later? And what about the biological health of lobsters in that fishing area? Has this improved or has poaching and irresponsible fishing activities increased even with the co-operative in place?
The problem of course is that no such socio-economic research or analyses have been undertaken on any of the present co-operatives that have been implemented by DAFF. What is apparent from the department's own scientific data, is that lobster stocks have continued to be overfished and illegally harvested at alarming rates.
Accordingly, the obligation would be on the Portfolio Committee to first require the department to undertake a comprehensive socio-economic analysis of the impacts of co-operatives and to fully understand the pitfalls of community-based co-operatives and what legislative and regulatory measures are required to guard against the recurrence of a future SACFC-type calamity. To blindly support the inclusion of co-operatives without proper data and analyses would amount to nothing less than reckless legislative law-making.
As one of the presenters mentioned, we are still trying to redress the consequences of the fraud that was the SACFC co-operative.
Further, with respect to the inclusion of "small-scale fishing" into the MLRA, our view is that it would be irresponsible to simply replace the category of "subsistence fishing" with that of "small-scale fishing". Our reasons are as follows.
Firstly, there are more than 7800 subsistence fishers who are predominantly located in the most rural and isolated parts of the Pondoland and KwaZulu-Natal. Considering the urgency of the amendment bill, it is not possible to ignore these subsistence fishers and Parliament will have to consult them directly, the two coastal provinces concerned and the Council of Traditional Leaders of SA (CONTRALESA).
Secondly, the type and value of species targeted by these subsistence fishers does not justify categorising these fishers as "small-scale commercial" with the consequential administrative and financial burdens that come with this category of fisher.
Thirdly, considering the substantial numbers of subsistence quota holders, their isolated locale, inaccessibility to DAFF fishery control offices and once again the lack of any legal and socio-economic research or analyses into what it would mean to migrate these quota holders to the category of "small-scale", it would make no sense to simplistically and blindly delete the largest single recognised category of fisher from the statue books.
Instead, Feike's submission is that the category of "small-scale fishing" should be included into the MLRA by way of adding a new section 21A and the content of the present clause 5 of the Amendment Bill could be included in the new section 21A.
These were our submissions to the Portfolio Committee.