South Africa is in the midst of a 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has already affected more than 1,300 people and killed five.
However, the country’s fishing industry received an exemption from the lockdown after being designated as being vital to the domestic food industry by South Africa’s the National Coronavirus Command Council. In a statement, Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said the council exempted the fisheries sector, as well as the harbor, fishing vessels, shipping and docking services from the lockdown conditions.
But even more crucial for South Africa’s fishing industry is the extension of the existing fishing rights that were set for renewal during the lockdown period, but which will now be renewed after 90 days, Creecy said.
“Starting from today we are granting a three months’ exemption for the renewal of all of those permits to ensure that operators are not forced to come into our offices,” Creecy said. “This provision will be reviewed after a period of three months and only applies to those who have existing fishing rights.”
This extension of the fishing rights renewal comes barely one month after Creecy extended the West Coast rock lobster season “to support fishers affected by the dramatic drop in exports to China since the outbreak of the coronavirus.”
Commercial and small-scale fishers had petitioned the minister to intervene and cushion them after the export prices for rock lobster dropped substantially. South Africa exports up to 90 percent of its rock lobster to China.
“The department is concerned about fishers and communities who have been adversely affected by this unexpected international event,” Creecy said in late February. “Following consultation with the sector, we have decided to extend the nearshore fishery in the Western Cape until June, and the Offshore and Northern Cape fisheries until September.”
Furthermore, the minister allowed changes to the provisions in the fishing permits to enable fishers in both the Western Cape Rock Lobster Association (WCRLA) and linefish sectors “to land their catch over weekends with fishery control officers on site to monitor and record landings should the situation arise.”
According to the minister, the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries reached the decision after taking into account the fact that “the season in all these areas would automatically end once the 10 percent berried female threshold is reached.”
As the devastating effects of COVID-19 threaten to eat into the gains of the fishing industry in South Africa, the Fisheries Department has urged licensed fishers to “explore alternative markets, including the local market, and to continue exporting frozen tails, albeit for a lower price than would normally be obtained for live lobster.”