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The department reaches a significant and historic milestone in recognising and allocating 15-year fishing rights to small-scale fishers in the Western Cape

15 November 2023


Today, the department is proud to announce the final outcome of the allocation of 15-year fishing rights to small-scale fishers in the Western Cape. Yesterday the delegated authority on the minister's instruction issued grant of rights letters to a total of 62 small-scale fishing co-operatives, with a total membership of 3850 declared fishers. This marks the final province where these rights have been granted for the first time in South Africa's history.

"This achievement signifies the end of the interim relief era and the formal inclusion of Western Cape fishing communities, whose livelihoods have been intertwined with fishing for centuries. Historically, these communities faced systematic exclusion due to past injustices, hindering their participation in fishing operations," said Minister Creecy.

"From today, the fishing co-operatives will promote employment and economic development in fishing communities as well as support food security and decriminalise traditional fishing. The department is conscious that much more needs to be done to support the sector's growth and development, and we are very committed to this process," said Minister Creecy.

In the lead-up to fishing rights allocation, the department has worked with community based organisations (CBOs) and fishing communities to register co-operatives and  identify suitable species and fishing areas to be used by the co-operatives.

The department has also commenced with providing two-day training workshops aimed at registering co-operatives as community-based legal entities earmarked for the allocation of small-scale fishing rights.

The department is still in the process of developing a sustainable and financially viable basket of species for the small scale sector. Some of the species that have been granted to date includes commercial traditional line-fish species, west coast rock lobster, seaweed, bait species, abalone aquaculture ranching sites, net-fish species, white mussels, oysters, and hake handline.

A few years ago, our department conducted a survey to understand the challenges facing small-scale fishers in the Western Cape. This survey revealed a lack of access to markets, suitable infrastructure, and accessing to the broader fishing value chains.

Consequently, the department developed a Support Strategy which includes formalised agreements with the Department of Small Business Development and with one of the maritime academies. Many other partners such as the National Development Agency, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) have committed their support to the small-scale fishing co-operatives of the Western Cape. The department will appoint 62 mentors so each co-operative will have dedicated direct support for the next 3 years.

Before 2014, the fishing rights framework only acknowledged access rights in the recreational, commercial, and subsistence sectors, thus marginalising many local fishing communities. During this time, small-scale fishers were often deemed illegal fishers, as they were not authorised to participate in regulated fishing sectors.

The Marine Living Resources Act was amended in 2019 to include small-scale fishers and to recognise an individual as a small-scale fisher if that person is:
"a member of a small-scale fishing community engaged in fishing to meet food and basic livelihood needs, or directly involved in processing or marketing of fish."

During the period between 2016 to 2019, the department initiated a process to allocate of small-scale fishing rights, nationwide. Rights were finalised in the Northern Cape in 2018 and in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

In 2019, the Western Cape the department received a total of 8646 applications from individual applicants seeking to be recognised as small scale fishers in the Western Cape alone. Only twenty nine percent of the applicants were allocated rights.

In 2020, as a result of several fishing communities submitting complaints against the verification process and its outcomes in the Western Cape, the Minister called for an audit inquiry into the findings of the verification process. Based on audit findings, the minister sought an order from the Western Cape High Court to review and set aside the verification process for the Western Cape and to remit the verification process to the department for reconsideration.

Working collaboratively with community based organisations, the department re-designed a fair process on the verification of small-scale fishers resulting in over 5000 applications from 109 fishing communities in the Western Cape. The delegated authority's final list declared over 84% of applicants successful, a significant improvement from the 2019 previous process' success rate of 29%.

Aggrieved applicants were again entitled to lodge an appeal against the decision taken by the delegated authority to refuse their application. The department worked closely with the communities to provide the necessary information, support and guidance to enable appellants to lodge their appeals in an administratively and legally sound manner.

"The department received a total of 461 appeals and I considered each of these appeals on its own merits. In my consideration of these appeals, I followed the principle that all applicants are successful unless they were unable to provide proof that they met all the required criteria as set out in the Small-Scale Regulations," said Minister Creecy.

"I was also mindful of the unique circumstances of fishing communities and that the completion of application forms may have been a challenge for certain individuals. I am satisfied that the process was inclusive, addressed various historical imbalances and therefore the outcome is fair and correct. 431 of these appeals were upheld and this translates into a success rate of 93%," added Ms Creecy.

The launch of the small-scale fisheries sector in the Western Cape coincides with the commencement of the west coast rock lobster fishing season.

Download the full » general published reasons for decisions on for the verification of small-scale fishers in the Western Cape Province

For media inquiries contact:
Peter Mbelengwa
Cell: 082 611 8197

Note to editors

The Marine Living Resources Act was amended in 2019 to include small-scale fishers and to recognise an individual as a small-scale fisher if that person is: 
"a member of a small-scale fishing community engaged in fishing to meet food and basic livelihood needs, or directly involved in processing or marketing of fish, who—

  • traditionally operates in near-shore fishing grounds.

  • predominantly employs traditional low technology or passive fishing gear.

  • undertakes single day fishing trips; and

  • is engaged in consumption, barter or sale of fish or otherwise involved in commercial activity, all within the small-scale fisheries sector."

The Small-Scale Fishing Regulations set out the process relating to the application and granting of small-scale fishing rights. The process, in summary, comprises of the following six steps:

  1. Step one: communities register an expression of interest with the department.

  2. Step two: the department conducts a verification process of each person claiming to be a small-scale fisher in each of the communities that have registered an expression of interest.

  3. Step three: the department assists the community with registering the community as a co-operative and identifying suitable species and fishing areas to be used for commercial purposes and for own consumption.

  4. Step four: the department assists the verified fishing communities to apply for a fishing right.

  5. Step five: the department assesses whether rights should be granted to the fishing community.

  6. Step six: the fishing communities may, if they so wish, appeal an adverse decision with respect to their application.

Demographic data revealed that in the Western Cape, 70% of the successful small-scale fishers identify as coloured persons, 25% as Africans persons and 3% as white persons. Furthermore, 62% of the successful small-scale fishers in the Western Cape are aged between 36-59 years of age, 27% are over 60 years old, whilst 11% of these fishers fall below the age of 36 years, constituting youth. It is worth noting that over 33% of declared small-scale fishers are woman who are directly involved in fishing and fishing related activities. These demographics point to the significant shift in the provision of legal access to fishing to historically disadvantaged communities.


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