While fishing remains an essential activity for people living on the country's coastline, most fishing communities, especially small-scale and subsistence fishers, feel that current legislation and policies are not doing enough to empower them or to correct past imbalances.
This was the view of several small-scale fishermen and fishing organisations that made oral submissions to the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries during the first day of public hearings in Parliament, which got underway on Tuesday this week.
The public consultations on the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill, which coincided with National Marine Week, seeks, among other things, to amend the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 to allow for the allocation and re-allocation of fishing rights to identified small-scale fishing communities, which were previously excluded from the commercial fishing rights allocation process.
Almost two hundred fishermen, mostly from the Western Cape, flocked to Parliament to make contributions to the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill, which they described as a long-overdue process to pave the way for the disadvantaged, unemployed and exploited fishing communities to enjoy fishing rights.
The Amendment Bill, which has been before the Committee since late September this year, aims to provide a legal framework for the implementation of policy for the small-scale fisheries sector in South Africa.
However, fishing groups such as Coastal Links SA said they cannot wait for the implementation of the legislation. Other organisations such as the South African United Fishing Front (SAUFF) and the Legal Resource Centre blamed the Department for a lack of inclusivity during the consultation process because the majority of fishers did not understand the content of the policy.
Chairman of SAUFF Mr Pedro Garcia called for a properly formulated identification and verification process to identify bona fide fishers and fishing communities.
"It is our view that the fishing industry is hovering in a very uncertain and volatile environment. Any rash decision-making will move our people further into the abyss of suffering and abject poverty currently facing our communities," Mr Garcia said.
Mr Christian Adams, the Chairperson of Coastal Links SA, which represents 400 small-scale fishers in four coastal provinces, most of which are not recognised by the law, said his organisation gave the amendment process the green light because their members had been hard hit by the commercialisation of the industry.
The Bill intends to bring into force the Department's small-scale fishing policy, which supports the setting up of community-based legal entities in the form of co-operatives to allow small-scale fishing communities' access to fishing rights. The hearings will continue on Wednesday.