Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Agriculture, forestry & fisheries minister Senzeni Zokwana has instructed officials in his department to begin the allocation of fishing rights in four coastal provinces to small-scale fisheries and coastal communities.

This follows unrest in Hout Bay at the weekend, which resulted in the arrest of two fishermen. One fisherman is still missing. The unrest followed a police task force antipoaching operation in the area.

Zokwana said the social unrest had been precipitated by the belief that department officials were responsible for the operation. "The torching of state offices, including the torching of an official’s house, must be understood in this context. My office and senior officials have been engaging with various stakeholders in this regard."

The crisis in Hout Bay "highlights the urgency with which my department should conclude the allocation of fishing rights … to the small-scale fishermen and coastal communities who fish for [a] living".

The state is concerned that the sector, which has annual sales of more than R5bn, is still dominated by a few firms. In 2016, then president Jacob Zuma signed into law the Marine Living Resources Amendment Act, which recognises small-scale fishers who have been marginalised in the allocation of fishing rights.

The South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, which represents established operators, has previously dismissed allegations that the industry is untransformed. It said fragmentation and the allocation of rights to more companies are bad for the sector.

"Consistent with the Marine Living Resources Act as amended, I am committed to fast-track the entry of those who were disadvantaged [in] the fishing sector," said Zokwana.

Claire Attwood, speaking on behalf of the Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, said while the association does not want to comment on the matter as established operators fish far offshore and do not overlap with small-scale fishery for West Coast rock lobster, it welcomes the minister’s commitment.