Fresh-fish industry in crisis

Cindy Preller

THE supply of linefish at the Port Elizabeth harbour has been severely affected by the government’s refusal to re-issue permits to many Bay fishermen.

At least one fishing depot has temporarily closed its doors, while a takeaway shop at the harbour has been forced to take several items off its menu since long-term commercial fishing rights were lost on December 31.

About 30 linefish fishing boats in the region lost their fishing rights, and the unsuccessful fishermen only heard from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department that they would not be getting new licences on the very day their existing permits expired.

Not only has the number of longterm line fishing rights issued been halved – from 455 issued nationally in 2005 to 303 in last year and now only 215 this year – but Bay fishermen also said they had no idea who the “unknowns” were who were issued with seven-year fishing rights.

Harbour Seafoods general manager Zaid Mota said the only two boats in Port Elizabeth he knew of that had their fishing rights renewed, supplied to out-of-town markets. Only one of the two boats had been out to sea since last week.

Mota temporarily closed Harbour Seafoods, which sells fresh fish to businesses and restaurants, on January 2. “I was forced to put the staff of seven people on short-time. There simply is no fresh linefish in PE at the moment. The fishing rights process has decimated the [Bay] linefish industry,” Mota said.

Along with fellow businessman and boat owner Marius van Heerden, he will today attend a crisis meeting with acting deputy director- general of fisheries management Desmond Stevens, along with representatives from the linefish industry affected by the licensing allocation in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

“We will be representing the region’s linefish fishermen, who at the moment are battling to make ends meet and do not have the petrol to go to Cape Town for the meeting. If we do not get what we want, we will take legal action against the department for an interdict to review the entire fishing rights process,” Mota said.

DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen has meanwhile submitted an urgent application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for the score sheets and any other data used by the department during its allocation process.

He will also request public protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the lawfulness of the processes followed in the allocation of rights.

“The outcome of the application process has been nothing short of devastating for [most] fishermen and families who have held these rights for at least eight years, in some instances for the past 20 years.

“Of great concern is the department’s refusal to provide reasons for [the denial of] fishing rights applications,” Van Dalen said.

He plans to visit Port Elizabeth tomorrow to meet affected fishermen.

Departmental spokeswoman Alieya Haider said all allegations of fronting would be investigated. “The criteria for allocating fishing rights were fair and equitable based on information supplied by the applicants,” she said.

Ocean Fresh Deli owner Vivian Forlee’s squid fishing right was not renewed. He said it amounted to “a R7- million investment lying idle with a crew of 16 sitting at home [jobless]”.

Of the 308 applicants for squid fishing rights, only 93 were successful. At Forlee’s shop, Ocean Fresh Deli, he was forced to take several items off the menu “because we have nothing coming in. We now have to rely only on the longline and trawler fishing boats to supply fish.”

SA Squid Management Industry Association vice-chairman Greg Christy said the squid industry in general had been luckier than the linefish industry in that most boats had been reissued with fishing rights.

The long-term right to fish squid (chokka) is for a seven-year period, which started on January 1. “About 90% of us got our permits and only 10% were held back. [These] are up for appeal. We are satisfied with the process,” he said.

Kings Court Cape Town Fish Market manager Stefan Smit said the availability of fresh fish to the restaurant had not much been affected yet.

“If there is a problem with the supply in PE we will fly it in, as we prefer to go the extra mile,” he said.

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