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Viking Fishing director: We were trying to save jobs

Jan 09 2017 18:44
Liesl Peyper

Cape Town - Viking Fishing Holdings said it went to court to get an interim interdict to suspend hake inshore trawling to protect the jobs of 179 people and make sure the fishing rights allocation is “rational”.  

Speaking to Fin24 on Monday, director of Viking Fishing Holdings Tim Reddell said there are no winners in the court process. “We’re also not being allowed to fish, but the point is that’s the only way in which we can ensure that when the (review) process is concluded there’s fish available for everyone.” 

On January 3, Judge Lee Bozalek granted an interim order to Viking Inshore Fishing. It placed all hake inshore trawling on hold until the next court appearance on February 6, during which the Cape High Court will hear arguments for and against lifting the interdict. 

On Friday, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana lambasted Viking for “running to the courts” instead of following the internal appeals process. This will start late in March and allows fishing companies unhappy about the quotas granted to them to air their grievances. 

Zokwana also called the court order “unlawful”, saying the court didn’t appreciate the fact that the appeals process still needs to take place. 

READ: Court interdict to suspend hake trawling 'unlawful' - minister

Reddell, however, said his company didn’t apply for the interdict to circumvent the appeals process, but rather to make sure there’s still fish available to catch when the appeals process is concluded in March. 

“There are only so many fish in the sea and the scientists work out very carefully how many fish of a particular population may be caught in one year,” Reddell said. 

He said the department is unlikely to have heard appeals before the middle of the year. “If everbody is fishing and there’s going to be an adjustment in the allocation during the appeals process – where are we going to get fish from? It would have already been caught.” 

Reddell emphasised the process the department followed to assess companies before allocating fishing quotas was indeed thorough, as its legal team argued in court. He however took issue with the fact that Viking was penalised after it had obtained 92.7% on the scorecard. 

“After six to eight months of assessing us on employee numbers, levies paid and the fish we caught we scored a high 92.7%. But in the end, the department completely disregarded the 92.7% on the scorecard and all the work we had done to make sure we employed the correct amount of people from each population group and the work we’d done in the communities,” Reddell said. 

“Instead, the department said you guys are 35% balck and therefore you must be 65% white and therefore we take that portion of your quota away.

“It was an epiphany – one afternoon we had a certain allocation and by that evening we had 60% to 70% taken away.” 

Reddell also denied that Viking’s court bid on January 3 – when departmental officials were still on leave – was ‘cynical’, as claimed by the department’s legal consultant Shaheen Moolla. 

READ: Viking Fishing's court bid a 'cynical muscle-flexing' exercise - legal expert 

On Friday, Moolla told Fin24 that Viking Fishing’s court bid was an “ambush application” and unnecessary muscle flexing, and that the company’s timing was cynical as most officials had been on leave when the company served its 120-page affidavit. 

According to Reddell, Viking wrote letters to the deputy director general of the Fisheries Management branch Siphokazi Ndudane, who is the decision-maker on fishing rights, requesting a meeting. The request was declined. The company subsequently wrote a letter to Zokwana who, according to Reddell, didn’t respond. 

“Then they all went on holiday and we’re sitting here with 179 people who would have been without jobs from January 1 (because of reduced quotas). We did a lot of soul-searching and we decided, given that the fishing right is there for 15 years, we’ve got to do something.” 

On February 6 the Cape High Court will hear arguments for and against a permanent interdict until the end of the appeals process. 

Moolla said on Friday he believed the court would put the interdict aside after hake inshore trawling continues. 

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