Fishermen drag minister to court over fishing rights


Written by: Liezl Human, GroundUp

Dozens of companies are taking the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs to court, after these companies’ application for commercial fishing rights was rejected. Some of these applicants have had rights to catch hake and tuna for the past 15 years, and export to Europe and America.

The process of granting fishing rights was completed on 28 February. The department received more than 2,400 applications. The 12 companies now turning to court are part of 1,213 applicants who appealed the award, but were unsuccessful.

The appeal process came to an end in December last year and 845 fishing rights were awarded. Among those who have received rights are Paper Qouta Holders, who have no boats, factories or even knowledge of fishing.

In about ten separate court cases, the applicants now litigate. Barbara Creecy’s right to withhold their fishing rights.

Greenfish Traders, a seafood company that exports to Europe and America, claims in court documents that Creecy did not properly consider the company’s appeal application and also wrongly rated the company. “Paper Quota Holders are now selling their permits to companies such as Greenfish, which are able to catch, process and market tuna,” the company’s court documents state.

In another application Mossel Bay Indigenous Fishermen claim the minister took 16 months to reject their appeal application. The company, which catches hake, says it has been forced to cease operations and has “virtually ceased to exist for two years while the minister and her department made these illegal decisions”.

The company further argues that due to the department’s incompetence and poor planning, commercial fishing operations could not continue for a long time, because fishing rights already expired in 2020, but the process of granting new rights was not completed until 2022.

Other companies argue that the award process was rushed and that rights were awarded randomly.

However, Peter Mbelengwa, spokesperson for the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, says the appeal process was fair, equitable and transparent and resulted in the right outcomes. He also says that the minister and department have generally received good feedback about the process and that the 12 companies that are now turning to the court only make up 0.48% of the overall number of applicants.

According to Mbelengwa, the department plans to fight the cases in court.

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

This post originally appeared on GroundUp.