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Individual Transfer Quotas unlikely to ever work for small-scale fishers in South Africa

8 November 2011

by Dr Moenieba Isaacs with Rebecca Pointer

Horst Kleinschmidt recently discussed ‘Balancing inequalities among fishers’ in a Cape Times article (Cape Times, Monday 17 Oct 2011). While we agree on a number of his views on artisanal and small-scale fishers, many of them are problematic and unworkable. For example, the contestation those small-scale fishing rights should be reserved for coloured males as they have an historical claim to the practice – race and identity politics are at the heart of this debate and fuelled in Western Cape party politics. The customary claim for coloured men should not be used simply to continue oppressive gender and racial categories; we need to be cautious and suspicious.

Although most fishers in the Western Cape Province are coloured their history and culture of fishing is rather mixed – historical evidence suggest that fishers along the coast of South Africa were strandlopers, slaves allowed to fish in their free time, and farmworkers drawn to the coast as fish workers in processing plants and allowed to fish in the free time as recreational fishers. Therefore, tradition is shaky foundation on which to build a fishing rights policy; most people simply cannot trace their roots back very far. If they did they would more likely trace it back to Europe or Asia; establishing first nation Khoi and San strandloper bona fides would be extremely difficult and problematic. We should move away from romanticising tradition, custom and categorising fishers as subsistence – fishing communities are cash dependent and need to sell and market their fishing rights, actively participating in the value chain of their harvested resources.

Instead, of romantic notions, we should look at who is actually currently actively fishing or actively involved in fishing communities. For example, women have been allocated rights and some are actively fishing Since women are the poorest and most oppressed in fishing communities, women should be given rights if they actively fishing and if not, they should form part of the processing and marketing of the resource.

Horst Kleinschmidt points to the problem of ‘paper quote holders’ – and indeed these are problematic, but this practice is a direct outcome of the way the Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system allocated rights to previously disadvantaged people and expected them to compete with big companies: it was in the best interests of companies to pay new rights holders off to not be involved in fishing so the big companies could secure their quotas. At the same time, rights holders with little or no experience in commercial fishing are likely to find being ‘paid off’ the surest way to secure a steady income.  The draft small-scale policy should take care of when and how established companies may be involved in the processing and marketing of small scale fisheries resources – if not, most small-scale rights-holders would sell their fishing rights to established companies.

While the collective rights allocation in the small-scale fishing policy does indeed have potential, it very much depends how this is set up: it is not a fait accompli better option. The experiment with community trust model in 1993 was problematic, as it simply becomes an entity that sets up agreements with and receives money from established companies to catch, process and market their quotas, and some of that money is then paid to members. However, the members typically have little say in how the trust allocates money and little input into how the trust might develop opportunities for members. So community trusts often become just another form of community elite capturing the benefits. For example, the South African Commercial Fishermen Cooperative were allocated the largest new entrant quota in 1997 — representing 25 fishing communities and 3000 fishers. They then corporatised, concentrated and downscaled their operations; members were not actively involved in harvesting, processing and marketing their allocation and instead joint venture agreements were made with established companies. Management captured all the benefits and fishers were left with no employment or income. I would argue that the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998 favoured industry domination in using ITQs and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) to allocate rights, while expanding the number of quota holders, and broadening access.

In practice, these two mechanisms were incompatible: ITQs limit the number of quota holders, while BEE is designed expand the number of rights holders. The reform has been focussed on narrowly-based BEE rather than meaningful social transformation, and expansion and stabilisation of the industry has marginalised bona fide fishers whose livelihoods depend on marine resources. Community Trusts and SACFC forms part of the ITQ model.

The current system suggested by the small-scale policy has a strong developmental approach with a clear mandate to alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerabilities of fishers in fishing communities. It offers a hybrid approach that will allocate rights collectively to a community entity and promote value chain processing and marketing through the community entity. Hence, all the benefits of the market should be used within communities. Government, through the implementation of the small-scale policy intends to support infrastructure (boats, gear, ice, transport, etc.), credit schemes, extension services and training and support to community entities.

For this form of collective privatisation to work well for members, members need:

  • a voice in allocating fishing rights
  • a management and implementation plan that suits local community conditions
  • to participate in the processing and marketing
  • infrastructure support
  • loans agreed among members
  • training and skills development specifically oriented to collective business practices and procedures (including accounting processes and procedures).

Currently, there is a mismatch with government-funded skills-training on business practice and procedures oriented towards developing individual entrepreneurs, even while government policy promotes collectives and cooperatives in the small-scale policy.  One of the biggest challenge for the small-scale policy is to incorporate into one representative organisation all existing rights holders in West Coast rock lobster, line fishers (commercial and traditional), beach seines (net trekkers), and interim relief permit holders who all fish in the inshore zone.

Without the appropriate structures, support, infrastructure and training, the existing policy simply continues as paper quota holders, a fishing company town model, which concentrates resources, downscales operations, fails to create employment and reduce inequalities, and thus also fails to alleviate poverty.

Could collective privatisation be an option for the rights allocation for the new small-scale fisheries policy? In post-apartheid reform, the subsistence and small-scale economies are not protected from the dominance of vertically integrated, established fishing industries in harvesting, processing and marketing quotas allocated to small-scale holders in inshore species (WCRL, abalone, and commercial linefish permits, hake handline, small pelagics [sardine and anchovy], and squid). It took twenty years for subsistence fishers to become recognised as small-scale fishers and a policy has been drafted, yet the ITQ system of allocation remains and will have impacts on the nature and the structure for community entities.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 January 2012 9:19 am

    I have been involved in the field of Quality Control in the Fishing Industry for some 40 years.
    My most recent permanent employment was with one of the largest & oldest company in South Africa.
    Before retiring I dealt with many of the SMME’s at the time and would like to put back some of my experience by way of training those employed in the small scale fisheries in South Africa.
    How can I make contact with these operators , is there for instance a directory or association of small scale operators where one can obtain their contact details?

    • 25 January 2012 9:56 am

      Hi Ian
      Could you please email our two fisheries researchers Dr Moenieba Isaacs and Ass. Prof Mafaniso Hara for that information? As far as I know, there are some groupings that would appreciate such help; both researchers work closely with fishing communities in South Africa and elsewhere in southern Africa.
      Rebecca Pointer
      PLAAS Information and Communications Officer

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