Groups of small-scale fishers in South Africa have raised doubts about the effectiveness and impact of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s (DFFE) ongoing series of meetings with their communities with regard to the Ocean Economy Master Plan.

The meetings between the DFFE, small-scale fishers, coastal communities and related stakeholders began on Tuesday.

The groups were invited to have their say regarding the plan as well as measures to support or enhance the economic development of small-scale fishers and coastal communities, especially within the context of co-operatives with a view to sustaining livelihoods.

Currently, the process is in the Eastern Cape but is headed for communities in the Western Cape in September.

Other DFFE policy initiatives being discussed include the developed Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) sector plans and Marine Protected Areas (MPA) issues that relate very closely to small-scale fishers and aquaculture.

SA United Fishing Front (Sauff) chairperson Pedro Garcia said the time allocated for each group averaged about two hours and that was not enough time to address such weighty topics in a meaningful way.

Garcia said the issues at hand would impact fishermen’s lives and livelihoods and to give them such little time risked turning the consultation into a box-ticking exercise.

“Any person in their right mind would know that talking about the Ocean Economy Master Plan is most probably going to take you a few days. Talking about marine spatial planning needs education, capacity building and awareness. The same goes for the Marine Protected Areas.”

Garcia said that in as much as the DFFE had noble intentions, he thought the department should have done its homework to determine what the efficacy of such a consultation process would be and how prepared the communities were for such discussions.

Masifundise Development Trust Programme Manager Carmen Mannarino said the discussions were long overdue but overall the entire process had excluded fishing communities who she said are the primary users of the oceans depending on them for their livelihoods and food.

She said Masifundise, which advocates for small-scale fishers, had previously rejected the plan and that even they did not think the consultation was sufficient or deep enough to actually really hear what the fishing communities want.

She said what they wanted was the rightful implementation of a smallscale fishery policy, a complete halt to oil and gas exploration and many other issues that were in the news.

“But the power imbalances in this process between big multinational companies and even big South African companies versus fishing communities is huge and it is really a concern when such a process is depicted as a consultative process and a democratic process.”

She said fishers were concerned about the content of the plan as well as about a future in which the ocean was only used for profit-making by big companies with no space left for fishing communities to operate.