The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has described as regrettable the protest action over fishing rights allocations in the Western Cape.
On Monday, a group of small-scale and near-shore fishers blocked the entrance to the DAFF offices at Foreshore Street in Cape Town. According to reports, the fishers were protesting over the long-awaited outcome of the suspension of the West Coast Rock Lobster fishing rights allocation process.
The fishers are demanding that the 2017/18 Total Annual Catch (TAC) be allocated to the small-scale sector, the scrapping of the Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) and that the small-scale fisheries policy be implemented immediately.
The department has reiterated that allocations are a legal process, which cannot be interrupted.
The department on Wednesday said while it respects the right to legal protest, it is "regrettable that The Collective, a group who has met with both the department and Minister [Senzeni Zokwana] and undertook certain decisions, decided to embark on a protest action in spite of the agreements made".
"The rights allocation process remains a legal process, which is informed by legislation, regulations and policies, and a process which has been hailed as transparent and legally sound.
"The request for an urgent meeting was held with (the department) after various fishing and community organisations took a resolution to work together and streamline issues that they would like the department to address. The various groups that have decided to streamline and work as a collective are referred to as 'The Collective'.
"It was agreed that all the organisations that form part of The Collective must start a process of being properly recognised in terms of the MLRA [Marine Living Resources Act] for the purpose of ensuring that future engagements are properly constituted," the department said in a statement.
The DAFF said the objectives that underpin its plans, projects and programmes in the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors include ensuring food security for all, creating jobs; increasing the contribution to gross domestic product and transformation of the fishing sector (which includes the implementation of the small-scale fishing policy).
The department said the Marine Living Resources Act was amended to recognise small-scale fishing as a sector within the fishing industry of South Africa.
"To this end, the small-scale fishing regulations with the entire legal framework have been approved and are being implemented in the four coastal provinces. The small-scale fishing sector will directly benefit approximately 30 000 people from coastal communities and is expected to transform the entire fishing industry.
"This new sector is designed to address food security needs within the local community, and will allow fishers to derive maximum benefit through value-adding of products and accessing markets.
"The fisheries sector is an important element of the Oceans Economy Strategy. The department will continue to advocate for responsible management of the marine resources. This will be supported by extensive research on the declining marine stock.
"DAFF, in collaboration with the industry, will accelerate growth in the sector to meet the aspirations of increasing the aquaculture sector five-fold to 20 000 tons annual production, thereby creating 15 000 jobs and contributing R3 billion to the GDP by 2019," said the department.
The department reiterated that it remains open to dialogue with stakeholders "as it has always been".