ESTABLISHED fishing companies continued to use individual fishermen as a front to secure fishing rights, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said on Monday.
He was speaking at a media briefing to announce the finalisation of the appeals process over the allocation of fishing rights for 2013. A panel of experts assessed 928 appeals in seven fishing sectors since June this year. Appeals over the line fish applications are being dealt with separately as part of an out-of-court settlement and should be finalised next month.
The minister said he had visited fishing villages, particularly in the Western Cape, and learnt that collusion and fronting by commercial firms was still a problem.
“In many cases that have been brought before me, the poor fishers owe tax to the South African Revenue Service — huge sums of money — as they have been listed as directors of companies while they have no knowledge of such and never got the monies to that effect. Although some strides have been made to transform the industry, it became apparent that traditional or small-scale fisheries have been left out or others have been used to front,” he said.
But South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association secretary Johann Augustyn said the problem was often that too many fishing allocations were given to too many small fishermen, raising viability issues. The fishermen had no alternative but to offer the allocations to big firms to catch on their behalf. It is a form of fronting but it is caused by cutting up the cake into too many small slices,” he said.
Mr Zokwana said clear transformation targets had been set for the fishing rights allocation process for 2015-16 to deal with these problems and a team of forensic investigators would be appointed to verify the truthfulness of the information submitted during the application process.
He said the appeal decisions took account of transformation, economic viability and environmental considerations.
For instance, black participation in the KwaZulu-Natal prawn fishing industry rose from the 40% level it reached as a result of the 2013 rights allocations to 50%, though that was still lower than the 66% that prevailed beforehand.
The appeal decisions also resulted in black fishermen holding 70.4% and 85% of the oyster and mussel sectors compared to the previous 60% and increasing their participation in tuna pole fishing from 54% to 69%.
The minister said the rights to shark fishing would be gradually phased out because hammerhead sharks and other listed species had been targeted. Annual landings of sharks had declined substantially because of environmental factors. Only sharks caught as by-catch will be allowed on condition that they be landed with their fins attached. Only two appellants were granted the right to catch sharks.
With regard to the declining hake hand-line sector, he said 23 appellants had been granted rights, 12 of which were legal entities and the rest individuals.