Minister Barbara Creecy’s speech to the Fisheries Stakeholder Forum meeting, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Good evening. Thank you very much for coming this evening. I know that many of you have traveled from far, when you leave here you’ve got a long way to go and this meeting hasn’t been short. So thank you very much for your time, thank you for your patience, it’s not something that we take for granted.

When myself and the Deputy Minister (Makhotso Sotyu, MP) took a decision to convene this meeting this evening, I got a lot of phone calls. People said to me “you’re mad, you’re going into a very rough situation”. So I said “well I’m sure if we go there and we say that we want to hear what the problem is, people can’t be rough”. Because if you have a problem, you need those of us who have been elected to serve the public, to come and listen to what the public is saying is a problem. So that’s why we came, because I think that we are very clear – myself and the Deputy Minister – that our job is to serve you. It’s not your job to serve us. And that’s what the short five years while we are in this Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, that is going to be the culture of the organisation. The organisation must serve you, you must not be serving the organisation.

So, we’ve heard a lot tonight, about how you feel outside of the industry that you want to be part of. How you feel separated from those natural resources that you feel you should have ownership of. And I think that if you listened to our President when he spoke at his inauguration, and no doubt if some of you listen to our President when he speaks tomorrow night [State of the Nation Address, 20 June 2019], you will hear him talk about the fact that we have to grow our economy, but we also have to make our economy more inclusive. And that means that those who feel outside of it, have to find a way that can come into it. So, we understand in listening to you, that there are different interests and groups within the fishing sector. We understand that there are big companies and medium sized companies and small companies. And we understand that there are also individuals who feel that somehow they have fallen out of the net. And we understand that in solving the problems of the different sectors of the industry, it’s not going to be a one-size fits all approach. We understand that. And I think tonight we’ve heard a lot about the frustrations of some of the small players and we’ve heard an appeal from the small players to the bigger players that, “we don’t want to have to bash down this door, we’d like you to open it”. I’m sure the big players also have something to say about how they think they can open that door, and how they think they can grow this industry so that everybody can benefit. And I want to suggest, because time is always the most difficult and the most precious commodity, I want to suggest that those of you who want to add specific things to tonight’s engagement, let me give you my email address: minister@environment.gov.za.

And what I’m asking you to do there is – if you want to write to me, tell me specifics about your sector. Because it’s not realistic that myself and the Deputy Minister in the near future are going to meet with 11 sectors of one federation. Unfortunately, time is not permitting that because we have to take decisions and we have to take them quickly.

So, it seems to me from listening to you, that FRAP 2020 is a problem. Am I right? And when I was listening to you, a question that was going through my mind – and I’m just asking you for your advice here – should I press the pause button on FRAP 2020? [Loud applause.] Remember, you’re just giving me advice, I’m just asking.

Yesterday, as you’ve heard our Deputy Minister (say), we did meet with the Department and I’ve heard all your criticisms of the Department. The Department was very self-critical of themselves yesterday. You should know that. They were very self-critical. They gave us a presentation. It was a very honest presentation. You would be shocked by how honest it was. And, what I said to them is that we would want to take a bit of time to assess the problems there that are leading to a lack of research, problems around allocation, problems around lack of monitoring, problems around collections. I think that there’s a recognition from colleagues within the Department that things could work a lot better than it’s working. And obviously it’s easy for a Minister and a Deputy Minister to come here for two-and-a-half hours, but if we want to get the system to work properly, we’ve got to take a little bit of time to understand what is causing the problems and how do we fix it. So that’s the second thing I want to ask your advice on. Should we take that little bit of time to understand the problems in the Department so we can fix them from the root? [Loud applause.]

I’ll tell you something about myself. When I commit to doing something, I do it. I’ve been in government for a long time. I think you’ve been disappointed, you don’t need to be disappointed anymore.

Now, in Gauteng, which is where I come from, we introduced something in the allocation of government tenders, it was called the “open tender process”. And what we did, was that when we made the decision about who should be allocated a tender, we invited all the competing companies to come there and to sit there – they couldn’t participate in the discussion, but they could watch the discussion. We did it in public. When we introduced it, people said “you’re crazy, you’re going to be in court every day.” Well, we issued 82 tenders through that process worth something like R75 billion and we weren’t in court on one day, because everybody saw what happened and who got what and why. I think the only way we’re going to solve this quota issue in the fishing industry, and the licensing issue in the fishing industry is we’re going to have to make those decisions in public. [Loud applause.] It’s got to be open and it’s got to be in public. Because when things are secret, even if something is not wrong, we all think it’s wrong. We all think somebody’s brother or sister, or, you know. So that’s why I think we’ve got to hit the pause button on FRAP 202O. Because if it’s going to be determining your livelihoods, all of you, in one way or another for the next seven or eight years, we should have a proper process. That you don’t spend the next seven or eight years questioning that process. I know some licenses are for longer than others. So, that is something that I think we would want to look at.

We have got to sort out the issue of research. Why do we have to sort out the issue of research? Because, when you make decisions, you must make decisions on the basis of evidence, not on the basis of prejudice. At least, I have to make decisions on the basis of evidence, not on the basis of prejudice. And I think that what we all understand is when we’re talking about protecting our natural resources, we’re not talking about protecting them for some people, somewhere; we’re talking about making sure that our children and our grandchildren still can find fish in the sea. Because there are seas in the world where there are no fish anymore. So that’s something that we need proper objective, scientific evidence. And again, that evidence must be available for all of you. I agree that we can’t just centralise the process of issuing licenses here, in Cape Town. Because one understands that we’ve got 3 000 kilometres of coast and that we are going to have to find a way that people in all other different parts can be part of it. When we talk about inclusion, bringing those who feel left out, in, it’s no good giving you a permit but you have no other means of support. We have to look at how do we build new businesses and new industries. Because if you don’t do that, all you’re doing is saying to people is “you can do this” but truth be told, you won’t be able to. So we’ve got to look at what they call the “value chain”. What are the things that will enable you to use that, and how will we help you to build that capacity? I agree with you. You can’t use experience as the basis for exclusion, as a basis to say “no you can’t come in”. What you’ve got to say is “how do you enable newcomers to come in? But let’s also agree that there are not enough fish in the sea for everybody who wants to fish. And that is where this issue of aquaculture comes in. And there are many fishing nations where aquaculture is huge. It’s very small here at the moment. But it’s something that we have to look at to see how do we develop fish. Because this issue of food security is very important. It’s a very important protein source and we’ve got to make it available to more people. I also think the point that was made here about the small harbours is a very important point. Because again, not everybody will be able to be fishing or in aquaculture. But what else can these communities do? And so, we have to look at how do we create other opportunities. Whether it’s in tourism, whether it’s in boat building or any other kinds of activities.

So colleagues, what I want to suggest is that you have helped us a lot this evening. You have helped myself and the Deputy Minister to get some understanding of some of the problems of the sector. I understand that there are other problems that have not come out tonight and that’s why I’ve given you my email address so that you can add more information about other kinds of problems. But the suggestion I think we’d want to make is that we need to come up with a comprehensive plan to repair some of the problems and the capacity problems in the Department and we also need to come up with a more comprehensive plan as to how we are going to make the allocation of the licenses an open and transparent process that all of you in your different categories can benefit from.

So, on that note, I want to thank you once again for being with us. I want to thank you for your advice and I want to say that I hope tonight is the beginning of a partnership. Not just a once-off. Okay, it’s not a one-night stand, alright? It’s the beginning of a partnership and a partnership that should actually help us to help us to repair the damage in the Department, but more importantly repair the industry so that all of us can prosper from this industry.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for listening.