Fishing boats in Gansbaai harbour. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Fishing boats in Gansbaai harbour. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Union federation Cosatu has called for a comprehensive, forensic audit on fishing rights to determine those in the industry who are “just rent seekers”.

In a notice published in the Government Gazette last week, environment, forestry and fisheries minister Barbara Creecy suspended the allocation of fishing rights pending the review of the whole process, which would have culminated in the allocation of long-term rights across 12 commercial fisheries by December 2020.

The fishing industry, which contributes R6.7bn a year to the economy, has previously been hobbled by delays in the allocation of fishing rights and prolonged litigation. The state has previously raised concerns that the sector is still dominated by a few firms. In 2016, president Jacob Zuma signed into law the Marine Living Resources Amendment Act, which recognised small-scale fishers that have been marginalised in the allocation of fishing rights.

On Wednesday, Cosatu welcomed the decision to suspend the fishing rights allocation process saying the entire system had been riddled with corruption and abuse.

“The government’s policy is clear and progressive. Small-scale fishing communities must be prioritised in the allocation of quotas. This is all the more critical in the face of declining stocks, especially inshore. Yet all too often this is not done. Instead, we see a corrupt elite colluding with certain officials contaminating the entire process,” Cosatu said.

“The federation believes that a comprehensive, forensic audit must be done to root out role players in the industry that are just rent seekers and who should not have fishing quotas.”

Furthermore, Cosatu believes that the rights need to be re-allocated to give preference to traditional fishing communities. 

“Workers also need to benefit directly from fishing rights given to commercial companies … The fishing industry has been plagued [by] corruption and domination of the sector by historical companies [sic]. It is time for this to end. The government, as part of its drive to imprison the corrupt in the country, must do an audit of people who got fishing rights illegally.” 

However, Cosatu said it is concerned that those who have the rights now will effectively have their rights extended, with the delay in the allocation process. “Those companies should be paying a levy for the interim period to fund thorough transformation  in the sector.”

The SA Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association (Sadstia), which represents established operators in the industry, also welcomed the suspension of the fishing rights allocation process.

“We are committed to working with minister Creecy and her department to ensure that the process for allocating long-term fishing rights is rigorous and transparent, and safeguards the sustainability and competitiveness of the fishing industry,” said Terence Brown, the association’s chair.

The association believes that the delay will allow the department  to conduct a comprehensive socio-economic study of the 12 fisheries that will be impacted by the allocation of rights.

Said Brown, “Such a study will clarify the impact that [the] allocations policy will have on investment in these fisheries, the jobs they create and sustain, and their global competitiveness. It will also allow the department to quantify the significant transformation that has taken place in the fishing industry since 2005, when long-term rights were last allocated.”