Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has agreed to a binding court order with the South African Commercial Linefish Association.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson has agreed to a binding court order with the South African Commercial Linefish Association, which is disputing the fishing rights allocation process.
The agreement was made an order of the high court in Cape Town on Monday, after wrangling began in the new year over the fishing rights allocations unveiled by her department.
The order will eventually help determine whether line fishermen who lost their licences can continue fishing until a court review of the rights allocation process is completed.
In the order, Judge Patricia Goliath stated that Joemat-Pettersson and the acting deputy director of the fisheries management department, Desmond Stevens, will have to reveal on April 24 why the fishing exemptions should not be extended until the completion of a review application sought by the association.
On that same day, legal representatives for the South African Commercial Linefish Association will be arguing for a full review of the 2013 traditional linefish rights allocation.
Leave was granted by the judge in the order for the association to serve notice of its review application, by way of advertising in various newspapers and posting notices at the fisheries branch, as well as all 29 of its fisheries control offices along the South African coast.
"It is recorded that the first and second respondents [Joemat-Pettersson and Stevens) intends to contend that the applicants [the South African Commercial Linefish Association] have not joined all persons with a direct and substantial legal interest in the review," stated the judge in the order.
All costs of this order will be determined once the review application has been decided, said the judge.
R1 000 each was collected from those line fishermen who can afford to contribute to the legal battle in court over the fishing rights allocations, said Wally Croome, the chair of the association.
Of the 455 traditional line fishing licences the fisheries management department issued in 2005, only 205 were confirmed in the new allocation handed down on December 31. A hundred of these new licences were given to new, unknown entrants.
While many boat owners discovered they had lost their line fishing licences, thousands of crew members claimed they face a bleak future without jobs.
"Those who can afford it gave money, and there are many fishermen who cannot afford to give anything," said Croome outside court.
Negotiations between the two legal teams began in court on Monday morning, following an announcement by Joemat-Pettersson at the weekend that the period for appeals against the rights allocations process would be extended by two months, until the end of April.
Line fishermen objected to this appeal period because it would be too close to the general election, and would not allow them to continue fishing until after a court review of the rights allocation process has been completed, said Shaheen Moolla, the association's legal adviser before the court order was made.
"People would be left hanging again," he said. "There will be no minister to take charge of this because they will be too busy campaigning and getting ready for an election."
On Sunday, Joemat-Pettersson told the media at a press briefing in the fishing village of Kalk Bay that there appeared to be some legitimate concerns around the rights allocation process, either relating to poor administration of the applications, or questionable judgments by the delegated officials.
The appeals process needed to be reinforced and strengthened, said Joemat-Pettersson.
"I have appointed the law firm Harris, Nupen & Molebatsi Attorneys to advise me on the appeals process," the minister said, addressing the press in a church hall. "They will undertake an urgent independent audit of the rights allocation process to ensure it was compliant with all relevant policies and legislation."
Not taking sides
Joemat-Pettersson said she was not taking sides on the matter, or giving credence to what may just be allegations. "But I do want to deal with these questions of propriety before I can consider any appeals that may be lodged. I cannot uphold or overturn a decision which may have been wrong in the first place. This is a caring government, which seeks to address poverty and inequality."
Croome said the fishermen still had no idea how the fishing allocation's scoring had been determined by the department, and they did not understand what process had been followed.
"We asked the department to explain it to us, and sent a lawyer's letter demanding they give us the scoring and other information needed to make individual appeals," explained Croome, who was awarded a licence and is now helping others to try to get back their licences. "They ignored that letter of demand and they forced us to go to court."
The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries faced a mutiny after it dramatically reduced the number of traditional line fishing licences and gave almost half to unknown applicants,
Stevens told the Mail & Guardian in an interview in January that he had only just been made aware that former gangster Ernie "Lastig" Solomons might have been one of those awarded a line fishing licence. There had been no way of telling that the person on the application form was the same man who in the 1990s was listed among the "big five gang leaders" police vowed to convict for criminal activity, he explained.
Another licence was apparently awarded to the skipper of one of the fisheries department's patrol boats. Stevens said both cases would be investigated.