Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Companies and other fishers involved in trawling for inshore hake are now in danger of missing an entire fishing season due to a High Court interdict preventing any businesses from catching the popular fish species, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries minister Senzeni Zokwana said on Friday.

Zokwana laid the blame for the serious implications of the court order at the feet of applicant, the fishing and vessel company Viking Fishing, which filed an urgent application for the interdict.

The application, granted on Tuesday by the Western Cape High Court, was to halt the fishing rights process as laid out in terms of the department’s newly introduced quota formula. The guideline was aimed at allowing newer, smaller and black owned businesses rights to trawl hake inshore.

The allocation for inshore hake trawl fishing — one of the most sought-after quotas — was awarded on December 21, with 12 of the 27 rights being given to new entrants, for a period of 15 years. This did not go down well with established operators such as Viking and I&J.

Zokwana told reporters during a briefing that the 27 fishing rights holders have been stopped from trawling for hake and sole inshore until a review application has been heard and decided, a process that could take months.

The minister said the court should not have granted the interdict as Viking had not exhausted the appeals process.

"Viking Inshore Fishing should have first exhausted the internal appeal remedy.… The court order creates a legal lacuna in that appeals in this fishery are due by 17 March 2017, but a review application concerning the very decisions to be subjected to an appeal will be heard on 6 February 2017," Zokwana said.

The last fishing season ended on December 31, making way for the start of the new season on January 1, and its new approved rights holders.

"I am perturbed on the basis that if processes were followed, companies could have written to me. That was not done by the said company, [they] did not write to me. They went to court," he said.

Siphokazi Ndundane, a deputy director general in Zokwana’s ministry, denied claims that the department had been belligerent towards Viking’s concerns about the allocation process.

She said Viking’s quantum was raised by 10% when the company made its presentation.

Zokwana said the judgment would hurt small, black and new rights holders considerably more than established business.

"Viking and other big companies also do processing and marketing. However companies that rely heavily on the catch will suffer the most and those are small, new and black companies," Zokwana said.

He said he was at his wits end as to how to protect the small businesses left vulnerable after being locked out of the fishing season until the conclusion of the review application.

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