The Minister of Fisheries, Barbara Creecy announced on February 19 that she intends to approach the Cape High Court to ask for the process whereby small-scale fishing rights are awarded in the Western Cape to be reviewed and set aside.

Based on legal advice, the Minister will seek the review of the entire process of those who originally applied for all Western Cape communities,” said the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), in a statement.

Department spokesperson, Albi Modise, indicated that steps will be taken to minimise the impact of the court application on fishing communities in the province, including bringing the application forward as quickly as possible and prioritising the new verification process.

“The Minister will ask the Court to order that whatever form of access to fish by communities and individual fishers have, will remain in place until the new verification process is completed,” said Modise.

Creecy decided to approach the courts after the ministry received several complaints from community members about the fairness and accuracy of the verification process for small-scale fishers in the province.

An internal audit process, launched in 2019, found that the process was “wholly inadequate”. Errors identified included the inaccurate capturing of information, the incorrect adjudication of applications by community panels and the inconsistent application of criteria between different communities.

The audit also concluded that the application and appeals process was incorrect and incoherent and applications were lost.

“Should the court application be successful, originally registered individuals will have an opportunity to submit new information to support their original applications and thus ensure a process that is applied fairly and consistently to all communities,” said Modise.

The Masifundise Development Trust, a community-based organisation that has worked with small-scale fishers for decades,  welcomed the ministry’s decision and said they called for the process to be reviewed “so many years ago.”

The organisation, however, noted that the decision will have a detrimental impact on small-scale fishers who have been waiting since the promulgation of the policy in 2012.

Communities are struggling to put food on the table, which has been made worse by COVID-19,” said Masifunde Director, Nassegh Jaffer in a statement.

“Small-scale fishers have died with nothing to pass on to their families that they leave behind.”

“The traditional fishers are paying for the Minister’s mistakes,” said Naomi Cloete, a small-scale fisher on the West Coast. Cloete added that she is relieved that fishing communities have been presented with the opportunity to remove “non-fishers” from the list.

The verification process review will also present bona fide fishers that were excluded during the initial process with an opportunity to make it onto the list.

The Ministry said approaching the court will delay the granting of rights for some communities by “at least another year.”

“But, the Minister believes that the consequences of not approaching the court are potentially even more disastrous. A new process is the only way to ensure that rights are allocated fairly,” said Modise.

Picture: Masifundise Development Trust

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