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Thursday, 16 November 2023 23:22

Western Cape small-scale fishers finally get their rights.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Small-scale fishing rights have been granted for 15 years across the Western Cape after a long battle, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) announced.

This means that 62 fishing cooperatives, consisting of 3,850 small-scale fishers, will be set up across the province.

This marks the final province where these rights have been granted for the first time in South Africa's history.

The finalisation of small-scale fishing rights has been delayed in the Western Cape for a few years. After several complaints about the 2016-2019 rights allocation process, when only 29% of applicants were granted rights, the DFFE Minister Barbara Creecy approached the Western Cape High Court to review the process. The court set the rights allocation process aside in August 2022, and a new process was started soon afterwards.

This time around, 93% of applicants were granted small-scale fishing rights.

These rights, which are granted only to fishers belonging to co-operatives, include the right to fish for subsistence, to process the fish and to sell it. Before provision was made for the small-scale fishing sector, only recreational, commercial, and subsistence fishing was recognised.

Fishing rights were granted to co-operatives in the Northern Cape in 2018, KwaZulu-Natal in 2019, and the Eastern Cape in 2020.

"This achievement signifies the end of the interim relief era and the formal inclusion of Western Cape fishing communities, whose livelihoods have been intertwined with fishing for centuries. Historically, these communities faced systematic exclusion due to past injustices, hindering their participation in fishing operations.

"From today, the fishing cooperatives will promote employment and economic development in fishing communities, as well as support food security, and decriminalise traditional fishing.

"The department is [aware] that much more needs to be done to support the sector's growth and development, and we are very committed to this process," Creecy, said.

She made these remarks during a, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) worked with community-based organisations and fishing communities to register cooperatives and  identify suitable species and fishing areas to be used by the cooperatives.

The department has also commenced with providing two-day training workshops aimed at registering cooperatives as community-based legal entities earmarked for the allocation of small-scale fishing rights.

The Minister said the department is still in the process of developing a sustainable and financially viable basket of species for the small-scale sector.

Some of the species that have been granted to date include commercial traditional line-fish species, West Coast Rock Lobster, Seaweed, bait species, abalone aquaculture ranching sites, net-fish species, white mussels, oysters and hake handline.

A few years ago, the DFFE conducted a survey to understand the challenges facing small-scale fishers in the Western Cape. This survey revealed a lack of access to markets, suitable infrastructure, and access to the broader fishing value chains.

"Consequently, the department developed a support strategy, which includes formalised agreements with the Department of Small Business Development and with one of the maritime academies.  

"Many other partners, such as the National Development Agency, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) have committed their support to the small-scale fishing co-operatives of the Western Cape," the Minister said.

The DFFE will appoint 62 mentors so each cooperative will have dedicated direct support for the next three years.