Twenty-seven fishing companies, some in the small-scale fishing industry, have been hung out to dry after the Cape Town High Court granted an interdict to Viking Inshore Fishing (Pty) Ltd, which is challenging the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ fishing rights allocation process, including the hake fishing quotas for 2017.
The ruling by Judge Lee Bozalek effectively puts on hold the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ latest allocation of fishing rights and quantum in the hake inshore trawl and sole fishery sector.
The group of small-scale fishers include 12 “newcomers” (those who have not had hake fishing quotas before) – among them Cape Fish Processors, a company founded and owned by 75-year-old Westridge resident Harry Mentor.
He started his business from home, which grew to employing 75 people from the area and Khayelitsha. The family-owned business moved to the Mitchell’s Plain business hub, in Alpha Street, about 25 years ago.
“We’ve been trying for the past 23 years to get rights to fish hake,” Mr Mentor said.
“The ‘whites’ claim the fishing industry belong to them. They think no ‘black’ people can get into the industry,” said Mr Mentor.
He said Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, had made the change in the industry.
“Transformation must happen in the industry,” he said.
Mr Mentor said they applied six months ago for the fishing rights and had hoped to employ a further 50 local people for this. He also had his inshore vessel comply with hake deep-sea trawl permit conditions at a cost of R1.6 million.
Successful hake inshore trawl right holders were informed by the department on December 23 last year that their applications were successful. They were also told that they were permitted to undertake commercial fishing between January 1 and February 28, during which they were entitled to harvest not exceeding their proportion of the total allowable catch and using the vessels as appearing in the final list of successful applicants.
Some rights holders also still needed to nominate suitable vessels.
During this interim period, rights holders are required to present either catch agreement or charter agreements or proof of ownership (in case they own such a vessel) to the fishery control officer when fishing and offloading.
As of March this year (after the interim period), no rights holder would be permitted to fish without a valid catch permit and vessel licence.
However, the court interdict, called for by Viking, restrains the minister and deputy director-general of fisheries management, Siphokazi Ndudane, from processing applications for permits or issuing them.
Similarly, the court order barred the small-scale fishers from exercising their rights to undertake commercial fishing in the hake inshore trawl fishery during the interim period.
The matter was deferred for a hearing and court decision on Monday February 6.
The companies have to file answering affidavits by Wednesday January 18, and Viking has to reply to these affidavits by Wednesday January 25. Parties must file arguments, in the case of the applicant, by Monday January 30 and the respondents, that is the 27 companies, by noon on Wednesday February 1.
Mr Mentor said they were given fishing rights for the next 15 years, which had additional benefits of financial support to grow the company, create work and enlarge factories.
“But we can’t go to sea. We are at home because we have been forbidden,” he said.
Mr Mentor said the trawler they had invested in was a major job creator, which would lead to more fishermen being employed, more processing, packaging and marketing and upgrading the company. “We are ready for this opportunity,” he said.
Lawyer Julian Apollos, representing Mr Mentor’s company and two other respondents, said the appeal process could take up to nine months, thereby haulting fishing for the new entrants beyond September.
“The relief that Viking is seeking is effectively for the minister to afford old fishing rights holders to continue fishing and exclude the new entrants,” he said
Companies are bound to lose their quantum allocation of 200 tons at a cost of R5 – R7 a kilogram.
Viking, which has had Long Term Rights Allocation and Management Process (LTRAMP) from 2005 to 2015 but in the provisional list of 2017 Hake Inshore Trawl TAC (total allowable catch)allocation their quota was cut by 70 percent, and then by 60 percent in the final allocation.
Viking director Tim Reddell said they had sought court intervention to secure continued use of assets and to prevent job losses.
“After a robust process, resulting in us achieving the second highest score of 92.7 percent, the department chose to reduce our future allocations by 60 percent for the next 15 years.
“This collapses our business model in Mossel Bay and requires us to retrench most of our 179 staff there,” he said.
Asked whether there were alternative channels to address the matter, Mr Reddell said they were appealing the allocation via the department’s internal remedies but the process was likely to take some time.
“At which point it is unlikely there will be fish left to remedy the situation. We therefore had no option but to stop the clock until the government’s process is complete,” he said.
Mr Reddell said Viking embraced transformation and that much had been achieved. The company is more than 33 percent black-owned and staff own 25 percent of the company, including people from historically disadvantaged communities who benefit when it does well.
“The sad reality is the fishery (industry) is small and cannot afford everyone an opportunity to fish. Quotas are not a ticket to making money, but are a responsibility to creating quality, secure jobs with proper benefits. We are decidedly not anywhere near large in this sector,” he said.
Speaking at a media briefing at Parliament last Friday January 6, Mr Zokwana said companies should work according to procedures, which should be followed. “They should have applied and trusted that I would have applied my mind,” he said.
He said companies that feel infringed upon should allow the department to decide how the new fishing orders are given.
“Appeals should have been seen at my office before proceeding to any court of law,” said Mr Zokwana.