Fishing community wants answers

2020-01-28 06:00
The quality of the West Coast Rock lobster pulled is a bone of contention

The quality of the West Coast Rock lobster pulled is a bone of contention

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Waar is ons geld?” (Where is our money?)

These words are on the lips of many Hangberg interim and small-scale fishing rights holders who agreed to sell the first phase (50.16kg per person for the 2019/2020 Interim Relief Fishing season) of their 2019/2020 West Coast Rock Lobster allocation to Amplified Projects and Investments, a local marketer.

Of the 125 fishers who signed with the marketer, it is alleged that only 20 have been paid in full.

The rest have either received a portion of their money or, some claim, nothing at all.

Beatrice Yon, chair of the First Indigenous Women group in Hangberg and a community appointed assistant caretaker, claims a well-known line-fisher in the community, Yusuf Achmat, first alerted the community to a possible deal with Amplified, owned by Lithu Nodada, in October last year.

“He posted a message on the United Fishers of South Africa WhatsApp group, saying that, for those who are interested, Amplified was willing to pay R320 per kilogram for crayfish,” says Yon.

Charmaine Phillips, the authorised representative for the Hangberg fishing community, confirms this.

She says Achmat approached her and Amplified’s offer was put on the table, along with two other offers from Inkosi Keta Marine (R300/kg) and Timo/Wise (at the time of the meeting, the marketer’s offer was not known) at a fishing community meeting held in November.

“Toe hardloop almal na die R320 (everyone ran after the R320),” says Phillips.

She emphasises that it was the fishers’ choice and their choice alone to go with Amplified.

However, the deal is now surrounded by controversy with claims of unfulfilled promises from both parties.

Nodada says the deal was only for live lobster, while the fishers believe otherwise.

“No company would promise R320/kg for dead fish just for the sake of securing a deal with a community. It just doesn’t make business sense. Only the local market is interested in buying frozen lobster at a much lower price,” says Nodada.

He says the international retail price of live lobster fluctuates depending on the season, but currently, the international retail price is about US$38 per kilogramme (about R540).

Achmat, however, says the price agreed upon did not come with any conditions.

He claims Nodada badly wanted it out of the water that he was happy with R320/kg.

Of course, a copy of the signed contract would solve this conundrum, but it seems hard to come by.

Nodada was asked to send People’s Post a contract, but none was received and both Achmat and Phillips told People’s Post that they did not have copies of the contract.

People’s Post has contacted The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), asking if it perhaps has a copy and is awaiting its response.

Yon says of the 125 fishers who decided to sign with the marketer, only 20 were paid in full at the end of last year.

“About 50 were given one-quarter of what they were owed and the rest got nothing,” she says.

“Many families went hungry on Christmas Day.”

Achmat says he can account for every cent paid (and sent People’s Post over 200 bank statements as proof). He says he made payments to fishers as Nodada made deposits in Everything Seafood’s account in December.

Achmat claims 20 fishers were paid in full (R11 600 each) and 105 were paid R4 000 each.

Achmat says Phillips later supplied him with an additional list of 11 people who she said had also signed the marketing and processing agreement with Amplified.

They were paid R3 000 each on the day before Christmas last year.

Phillips says at the time she told Achmat to divide the payments equally among the fishers.

Nodada says the same: “We advised Everything Seafood to distribute the money paid evenly (among the fishers). We don’t have their bank accounts, we don’t know who got paid what. So we are also stuck. Everything Seafood never sent us the recons, even though we asked for it over and over,” says Nodada.

Achmat says those 20 fishers were paid in full because their names were on a list given to him by Phillips. The list, he says, contained the names of boat crew members who also had fishing rights.

“Dis ouens wat hulle eie kreef uitgehaal het (They were the guys who took out their own crayfish),” Achmat explains.

Other figures in dispute are exactly how much lobster were pulled to this date, how much of that was live and exported and how much is being held in storage at Combined Abalone Processors (the company contracted by Amplified to process the lobster) in Hermanus.

The Hangberg fishing community has appointed a task team to look into the matter and to plot the way forward.

The four community representatives met with the marketer and processing company on Friday 24 January in hopes of negotiating a price for the frozen lobster.

Donavon van der Heyden, one of the community representatives on the task team, says: “It’s a mess, with ongoing accusations, threats being made to some of us ‘investigating’ this matter and a total lack of responsibility taken by some of those implicated.”

Van der Heyden claims unauthorised written permission was given to Achmat on behalf of the fishers.

“So the fishers will have to decide on a course of action now, while at the same time, new offers are on the table to buy their frozen stock, even though it will still be at a great loss to them.”

The task team has submitted an application to DEFF to gain access to information pertaining to dealings between the fishers and the marketer.

They hope to receive feedback from the department within the next few weeks.

Right(s), here we go

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