Marine Resources

SASSI is the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative. It is an affiliate organisation of the World Wide Find for Nature,1 and has as its core concern the state of our oceans – and, in particular, the manner in which marine resources are rapidly being depleted. Part of the problem is that an average of 312 million kilograms of seafood are canned each year in South Africa. Half of that is locally caught (and of which 70% is sardine and hake)2 but another part of the problem are the methods used to harvest catches.

SASSI has come up with two ‘tools’ whereby we consumers can make a difference: in the buying and ordering of seafood. One is the SASSI app, which lists fish according to:

Green – these are the most sustainable from the healthiest and most well-known populations. These species can handle current fishing pressure, or are farmed in a manner that does not harm the environment. This is the group from which people are encouraged to choose from.

Orange – this group includes species that have associated reasons for concern, either because the species is depleted as a result of overfishing and cannot sustain current fishing pressure, or because the fishing or farming method poses harm to the environment. Think twice before buying.

Red – this group includes unsustainable species as well as those that are illegal to sell in South Africa. Some of these ‘no-sale’ species are very important recreational species that cannot handle commercial fishing pressures, and may therefore only be caught for your own enjoyment and use. Don’t buy!

The other tool is the FISHMS service. This allows consumers to make on the spot choices about the seafood with just one sms. Simply type the name of the seafood species into a text message and send it to 079 499 8795 to receive information on the status of that species.

Of course, fishing quotas and permits are frequently in the news, and the concern about over-fishing and poaching is held nationally and at Government. The Marine Living Resources Act 1998 aims at addressing these aspects – conservation, sustainable utilization, and exploitation for the benefit of all South African citizens.

The Act refers to ‘fish’, which means all marine living resources of the sea and seashore, including plants and animals, but excluding sea birds and seals. There are different kinds of activities which tap into or exploit the marine resources:

  • commercial fishing – this is self-explanatory, but is generally where a person or entity engages, on a substantial scale, in the sale of fish on a commercial basis;
  • subsistence fishing – a natural person (i.e. not a company) who regularly catches fish for personal consumption, or who now and again sells or barters excess catch;
  • mariculture – the cultivating or farming of ‘fish’ in sea water;
  • fish processing – cleaning, filleting, preserving, canning, chilling, freezing, packing, salting, drying, etc.

For ease of reference, these are referred to collectively as ‘fishing activity’.

A. Permits

  1. It is an offence for any person to engage in any fishing activity unless a permit has been granted to him by the Minister of Environmental Affairs. This includes:
    • commercial fishing;
    • small-scale fishing;
    • mariculture;
    • operating a fish processing establishment.3
  2. The holder of a permit commits a crime if he is not able to produce the permit for inspection at the location where the permitted activity takes place.4

  3. Any person who undertakes fishing activities in contravention of any condition imposed in his permit commits a crime.5

  4. It is illegal to use any vessel to exercise any right of access to fish unless a ‘local fishing vessel’ licence has been issued.6

  5. It is an offence for a foreign fishing vessel to fish in South African waters without a ‘foreign fishing vessel’ licence.7

  6. It is also an offence to fish on the high seas (that is, outside South African waters, or those of another sovereign state) without a ‘high seas fishing vessel’ licence.8

  7. It is an offence to contravene any provision of an international conservation and management measure.9

  8. Fishing vessel licences may also have conditions imposed. It is a crime to use a vessel otherwise than according to such conditions.10
  9. It is an offence to sell, barter or trade any fish caught through recreational fishing.11 12

  10. It is an offence to undertake commercial or subsistence fishing unless the Minister has granted you the right to do so.13

  11. It is an offence to transfer a recreational fishing or subsistence fishing permit.14

  12. It is an offence to conduct fishing activities contrary to a foreign or high seas fishing license.15

B. Protected areas and prohibited activities

  1. If an area is declared by the Minister16 to be a marine protected area, it is an offence to undertake any of the following activities, without his written permission:
    • fish or attempt to fish;17
    • take or destroy any flora or fauna;18
    • in any way disturb, alter or destroy the natural environment including by extracting sand or gravel, depositing waste, etc.;19
    • erect any building or structure;20
    • do anything which may adversely impact on the area’s ecosystems.21 22
  2. It is a crime to use or try any explosive, firearm, or noxious substance for fishing purposes; or even have it on your possession for such purposes.23

  3. It is a criminal offence to land, sell, receive or even possess any fish taken by any means forbidden in terms of the Act.24

  4. It is a criminal offence to use, possess or even have control of:
    • any net or trap where the mesh size is smaller than the prescribed minimum;25
    • any implement, equipment or other article (including an aircraft) that can be used in fishing26 which does not conform to the standards prescribed for that type of gear, or which is prohibited by regulation.27
  5. It is an offence to interfere with another person’s fishing, including by way of the following:
    • remove, empty, haul, destroy, displace, move, cast adrift or otherwise interfere with his gear without his consent;28
    • do anything to obstruct his fishing operation;29
    • remove fish from any gear without the other person’s consent.30
  6. It is an offence to engage or assist in driftnet fishing without a permit.31

  7. An ‘aggregating device’ is a man-made article designed to collect fish together. It is an offence to fish within one nautical mile32 of such a device, unless permitted by the Minister and then according to conditions on the permit.33

C. Fishery control officers and enforcement

The Minister may designate any position or rank of a state department as a ‘fishery control officer’. For the purposes of enforcing the Act, these officers have extensive powers of entry, search, and seizing on vehicles, vessels, aircraft and premises; of ordering fishing activities to cease; mustering and interrogation of crew; ordering vessels to go anywhere including to return to port; taking samples, seizing gear, vessels, devices, logbooks, and so on.

  1. It is illegal to:
    • obstruct, assault, intimidate, threaten, insult, etc. a fishery control officer in his duties;34
    • fail to comply with his lawful requirements;35
    • furnish false information to him;36
    • impersonate a fishery control officer;37
    • falsely pretend to be acting under a control officer’s orders.38
  2. It is also an offence for any person, in order to avoid its seizure or the detection of any contravention of the Act by a fishery control officer, to throw overboard or destroy any fish, fish product, gear, explosive, firearm, noxious substance, logbook, document or anything else.39

  3. It is an offence to remove any vessel, vehicle, aircraft or other thing seized and in the custody of the State.40

  4. Observation devices may be installed on board a vessel in order to record information and data. It is a crime to destroy, damage or otherwise interfere with such device or intentionally to log information or data which is false or inaccurate.41
  1. Formerly called the World Wildlife Fund – WWF. 

  2. - ‘The State of our Oceans’. 

  3. Section 58(1)(a)(i) read with section 13(1) and section 18. 

  4. Section 58(1)(a)(i) read with section 13(3). 

  5. Section 58(1)(a)(i) read with section 13(2)(b). 

  6. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 23(1). 

  7. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 39(1). 

  8. Section 58(2)(a) read with section 40. 

  9. Section 58(2)(b) read with section 41(1). 

  10. Section 58(3) read with section 39(5). 

  11. Note: Section 20 of the Act forbids this, but it is not criminalised. 

  12. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 20(1). 

  13. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 18(1). 

  14. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 20(2) and section 19(2). 

  15. Section 58(1)(a)((jjj) read with section 39 and section 40. 

  16. By Notice published in the Government Gazette. There are several such areas, including the Castle Rock, Betty’s Bay, De Hoop, Goukamma, Robberg, Sardinia Bay, Dwesa-Cwebe, Langebaan, Hluleka, Mkambati, St Lucia, Trafalgar, Maputaland, Sixteen Mile Beach, Malgas Island, Helderberg, Tsitsikamma, Pondoland, Table Mountain National Park, Bird Island Group and Aliwal Shoal marine protected areas. 

  17. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 43(2)(a). 

  18. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 43(2)(b). 

  19. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 43(2)(c). 

  20. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 43(2)(d). 

  21. Section 90(3) of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57/2003 is intended to effect an amendment by repealing this section. That repealing section was inserted by Act 21 of 2014, but it has not yet come into force. 

  22. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 43(2)(e). 

  23. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 44(1)(a) and (b). 

  24. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 44(2). 

  25. Section 58(3) read with section 45(a). 

  26. In other words, ‘gear’. 

  27. Section 58(3) read with section 45(b) and (c). 

  28. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 46(a) and (c). 

  29. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 46(b). 

  30. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 46(d). 

  31. Section 58(3) read with section 47. 

  32. Approximately 1.8 kilometres. 

  33. Section 58(3) read with section 48(4). 

  34. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 56(5)(a). 

  35. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 56(5)(d). 

  36. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 56(5)(e). 

  37. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 56(5)(f). 

  38. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 56(5)(g). 

  39. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 60(1). 

  40. Section 67(1). 

  41. Section 58(1)(b) read with section 76(7).