Fishing folk left in the dark

2014-01-18 00:00

HOMES up for sale, businesses closing down … These are but some of the likely consequences following the refusal of fishing rights to individuals and families along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal who have fished for decades, but now find their livelihoods taken away from them.

Last month the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that of 1 556 applications for traditional line fishing rights, only 215 were successful.

Of these 115 were current right holders and 100 were new applicants. Rights are awarded for a seven-year period and each year the holder has to apply for an annual permit.

The Difilippi family based in Hibberdene supply their Fifi’s Fresh Fish shops in Port Shepstone and Hibberdene with what they catch from their ski boat. But now their fishing right has been withdrawn.

“My husband was a commercial fisherman for years,” explains Jenni Difilippi. “He died in 2012 and my son David, who had been fishing with him for six years, applied to take over his right.”

This was approved and the licence transferred to his name. “Now his right has been denied.”

Now the Difilippi family face the prospect of having to close their two shops. “We employ 30 people,” says Difilippi. “We could source fish from elsewhere, but it is very difficult these days.”

Difilippi says she can understand the number of rights issued has been reduced because of low fish stocks, “but I can’t understand why they have given 100 rights to new people with no history of fishing”.

The Difilippi family will appeal the refusal of their application and if unsuccessful, will seek legal advice.

“Meanwhile we sit without an income.”

A 50-year-old South Coast fisherman, who asked not be named for fear of harassment, and who has been fishing in the area for 27 years, has put his house up for sale after being refused a licence.

He claims the criteria for the renewal of the rights were misrepresented.

He said a representative of the Fisheries Department gave a briefing to local fishermen. “The emphasis was on whether we were complaints. We were told we had to provide records of catch returns, levies and permits paid.

“You had to have a history in fishing and no contraventions against you — you had to be a bona fide fisherman.”

After he had applied, an official from the Department of Fisheries came to his house to check all the paperwork.

He was informed on December 31 that his application had been unsuccessful. “You had to have 30% to pass, I had 25,6%.”

When he received the application scoresheet, he said he found out why he had failed, as it was geared towards equity issues and black empowerment. “They didn’t care whether you had any involvement in fishing or were a bona fide fisherman.

“There were no points for compliance, for having a boat, for having fishing experience and a skipper’s ticket,” he said.

“How did those new applicants get 30% when they have no involvement in fishing?”

Wally Croome, chairperson of the South African Commercial Linefish Association, which is currently engaging with the Fisheries Department over the issue, says the scoring criteria “deviated totally” from the methodologies used in two previous rounds of right applications. “This caught us totally unawares.”

Croome said that in past years previous rights holders got 40 points, and that those owning their own boat received 20 points. “Those two criteria got you through, now they are not even there.”

Some fishermen have been granted exemptions and allowed to fish until the end of February, pending an appeal process. Croome says they are hoping to get another month’s extension to the exemption.

He said his association was concerned because 100 of the new entrants allegedly have no previous fishing experience. And “the department can’t say it was in the name of transformation as some of them are white”.

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