We have been quite scathing of the Department of Fisheries’ so-called consultation process in preparation for the allocation of long term fishing rights in 8 commercial and small-scale fishing sectors this year. Our analyses have been reported in various media and on this BLOG. And then we attended the Cape Town consultation meeting this morning at Cape Town’s Good Hope Centre.
Unfortunately, the consultation process only confirmed that DAFF is actually at least 12 months away from being able to properly and lawfully allocate fishing rights in these 8 fishing sectors. 
There are no sector policies for any of the 8 fisheries. We are told that during May, draft sector policies will be presented to the respective fishery management working groups for informal comment before a formal notice and comment procedure (such as the present one underway) will commence. 
DAFF has no idea with respect to the application and grant of right fees that will be levied. The process of quantifying these is a complex, detailed and timeous one, involving an analysis of the foreseen administrative costs of allocating fishing rights and then balancing the obligation to recover these costs with social and economic considerations. Once a suite of fees formulae have been generated for each fishery sector, it must be published for comment and then submitted to the Minister of Finance for approval and then ultimately to Cabinet for approval with the General and Sector Specific Fishery policies.
There are no draft application forms available for comment. It appears that these have not even been drafted. However, we got the distinct feeling that these application forms will simply be a carbon copy of the 2005 applications. 
The Department repeatedly referred to the intention to allocate fishing rights to co-operatives and community organisations. But this is simply not allowed under the Marine Living Resources Act. The MLRA explicitly makes provision for the allocation of fishing rights solely to individuals and South African owned companies and close corporations, as well as trusts. The department has not bothered to amend the MLRA despite the fact that the small scale fisheries policy which proposes allocations to co-operatives was passed by Cabinet in June 2012. What has DAFF been doing since then? Why has it not amended the MLRA subsequently or even prior to the adoption of the small scale fisheries policy? Incompetence, I hear you say? 
There is no clarity on or understanding of the duration for which fishing rights need to be allocated in each sector. For example, there was talk of rights being allocated for periods of between 2 and 15 years. Why? Back in 2005, harvesting rights in the oyster and mussel fisheries were allocated for 2 and 3 years, respectively, because the department wanted to investigate the possibility of further developing and commercialising these two sectors. Surely this rationale should no longer be applicable … unless DAFF has done nothing in this regard since 2005, which is obviously very likely!
And of course no consultation process by DAFF would be complete without the admission of some seriously bizarre and factually wrong statements. We picked up on three real zingers. 
The first was that this allocation would be the first ever to accommodate small-scale fishers! What? So who holds fishing rights in the oyster, mussel, lobster, traditional line fish, abalone, hake handline and trek net fisheries? These Cluster C and D fisheries are exclusively exploited by small-scale fishers. 
Another humdinger was that the draft general policy is the product of substantial internal departmental discussion and debate! Err NO DONT SAY THAT! Anyone that has read the 2005 fisheries policy will know that the current draft is a horribly inappropriate cut-and-paste, including a couple of minor typographical errors!  
The final one we heard was that the department was going to “introduce” a sliding scale for fishing application fees as the 2005 application fees were “exorbitant”.  Clearly spoken by people who did not study or understand the 2005 process! A sliding application and grant of right fee was introduced in 2005. Furthermore, the grant of right fees were determined by the size of quota granted and depended on the fishery concerned and the value of that fishery in relation to the entire suite of fisheries. This fee system allowed nearshore small-scale lobster right holders for example to pay a mere R400 for a ten year long quota. I&J for example paid a R2 million grant of right fee as it was allocated the largest single quota in the hake trawl fishery in 2005. 
We said this before but it bears repeating. The department has crudely and without the requisite knowledge and understanding of allocation processes copied the 2005 general policy and its processes and thinking which were informed by a set of circumstances that are no longer relevant and applicable in 2013. 
If ever we were to sincerely dispense advice to DAFF it is now and it is this. Stop deceiving your collective selves and your minister and the fishing industry. You are not ready to allocate fishing rights. You need at least another 12 months to get the foundation and building blocks in place (policies, application forms, MLRA and regulatory amendments etc). Rather invest in urgent measures to ensure that when the 1000-odd quotas expire on 31 December 2013, there are legally valid and widely communicated contingencies in place. 
And of course we all hear DAFF will be without a DDG come month-end. Eish. Take the hard decision; admit the lack of preparedness; it will be cathartic. 
Feike hereby formally volunteers its services to help design a proper, legal and credible process complete with timelines and deliverables for the allocation of fishing rights in 2014 in 10 commercial and small-scale fishing sectors (+ abalone and tuna long line). Our offer is on the table. 

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