Companies take Creecy to court over fish quotas

Henry

By Liezl Human, GroundUp

About 12 companies dragged Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to court after the conclusion of the commercial fishing rights appeal process at the end of last year.

The companies have – in separate cases – opposed the denial of commercial fishing rights for 15 years. They believe that the decisions of the minister were illegal and that their applications were assessed incorrectly.

The Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) for 2021 was completed on 28 February 2022. The department received a total of 2,473 applications. The companies’ appeals were among 1,213 appeals received, but were unsuccessful.

The appeals ended in December 2023 and a subsequent total of 845 rights were granted.

Fishing companies have long been dissatisfied with the outcome of the fishing rights process. In July 2022, GroundUp reported on the appeals process, as well as some fishermen calling for the process to be scrapped.

Dewald Smit and Shaheen Moolla represent about ten of the applicants in the separate cases against the minister. Applicants challenge the minister’s denial of their rights in various sectors such as tuna and hake longline. Many of them are previous rights holders.

Greenfish Traders, a seafood company that exports to Europe and the USA, says the minister failed to assess his appeal properly and also scored wrong points for the company.

Greenfish’s court documents raise concerns about paper quota holders with no vessels, factories or knowledge of tuna fishing, but who now sell their permits to companies like Greenfish, which are “actually capable of catching, processing and marketing tuna”. Paper quota holders are quota holders who lease their quotas to fishing companies.

In another application, Mossel Bay Indigenous Fishermen, who applied for hake longlines, said it took the minister 16 months to decide on their appeals.

“We were forced to barely exist for about two years while the minister and her department made these illegal decisions to deny the (…) fishing right.”

The company argues that although their fishing rights were terminated in December 2020 “due to departmental incompetence and simple poor planning”, “no fishing rights allocation process was planned to ensure an uninterrupted continuation of commercial fishing”.

Prairie Pride Trading, which has an unsuccessful hake longline application, says that every hake longline appeal decision had the same date.

The company’s court application stated that it was not “humanly possible” for the minister to check the applications, apply her judgment and decide on 280 hake longline appeals in a single day.

Moolla told GroundUp that the FRAP process was “hastily and haphazardly assigned” and that there were also extensive flaws in the online process.

However, department spokesperson Peter Mbelengwa says that “the FRAP appeal process was fair, equitable and transparent and led to the correct outcomes”.

“The department and minister “received positive feedback on the outcome of the appeal process. The 12 court cases represent only 0.48% of the total number of applications.”

Mbelengwa says the department intends to defend the decisions made during the appeal process. He added that the department could not respond to some questions, as it deals with an “ongoing legal process”.

Several of the cases will be heard in the Western Cape High Court in May.