Court sets aside experimental fishing permit for horse mackerel

Fishing industry associations and companies active in South Africa’s deep-sea and midwater trawl fisheries were successful in their challenge of an experimental fishing permit for horse mackerel granted by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) under controversial circumstances.

The permit was allocated to Global Pact Trading Online 3 (Pty) Ltd on 15 December 2015. It was issued outside the formal rights allocation process currently underway and allowed for the harvesting of 8 000 tons of horse mackerel worth an estimated R120 million.

SADSTIA, the South African Midwater Trawling Association and 19 fishing companies that hold rights in the horse mackerel fishery challenged the legality of the experimental permit, appealing to the Cape High Court to review and set it aside. Their challenge was also supported by WWF and the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). DAFF conceded the industry review and the matter was settled by an agreed court order granted on the 25 October 2016, with a provision for the State to pay legal costs.

“The industry welcomes the fact that the DAFF has conceded the review and, in doing so, has adhered to considered scientific advice around the current status of the resource,” said Johann Augustyn, secretary of the two industry associations.

DAFF had argued that the allocation of the experimental permit sought to determine more precisely the exact size, distribution and value of the South African horse mackerel fishery, and whether South African consumers could benefit from horse mackerel which is mostly exported to other African countries. However, the fishing industry and conservation organisations were alarmed by the fact that the 8 000 ton allocation added 20% to the annual total allowable catch and was not accommodated by the scientific models used to manage the fishery.

“An additional catch of 8 000 tons, or exceeding the recommended number of fishing days by the formal industry could have posed a very serious risk to the horse mackerel stock and it is clear that the experimental permit would have rendered no practical or scientific benefits,” said Augustyn.

“Looking to the future this matter should serve as an example to both industry and DAFF that meaningful consultation is essential, particularly when decisions could have a detrimental effect on the sustainable management of South Africa’s valuable marine resources.”

Augustyn emphasised that the two industry associations are committed to the sound management of South Africa’s fisheries resources and he expressed the hope that the conclusion of the matter with an agreed court order would result in a closer and more transparent working relationship with DAFF.