(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on March 27 2016.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
New laws recognising small-scale fishers are set to ensure traditional coastal families can secure a livelihood without criminalisation, years after they started a battle with the government for this right.
The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries will this week outline how the Amended Marine Living Resources Act will benefit the sector. The Act had been signed into law this month.
Abongile Ngqongwe, the department’s deputy director for small-scale fisheries management, confirmed the new law for the first time recognises small-scale fishers.
“There were many traditional fishers that were left behind with no commercial fishing rights. Communities and NGOs took the department to the Equality Court in 2005 and we now have new laws,” he said.
“The new policy took long because of the number of people involved in drafting it. We have been issuing permits for quite some time now to small-scale fishers. Now we are going to allocate fishing rights to communities all along the coast.”
Ngqongwe said this would affect at least 30,000 small-scale fishers in 280 communities.
Mamre resident Christian Adams, chairman on non-profit Coastal Links which represents small-scale fishers, said they would now monitor implementation of the amended law.
“There is still a lot of political will lacking in the department to implement laws. We still don’t know what quantum of fish will be allocated to small-scale fishers,” said Adams.
“The department is also handing out commercial rights. Our fear is that if all the fishing rights are given to commercial fishers then what will be left for communities?”
Adams said he currently needs to fish 130km from his home town because commercial fishers have been granted the right to fish in waters – instead of locals.
“Legislation has killed small-scale fishing. We had to take the government to court to change that law so that we could operate,” said Adams.
“And now not as much people depend on fishing anymore. We are about 100 small scale fishers that operate in Mamre. It’s not as vibrant as it used to be because we have been curtailed by the laws.”
Adams added: “There are still problems with the privatisation of the seas. We are getting arrested for doing something our grandfathers used to do. We are accused of poaching and depleting stocks. But industrial fishing is responsible for that.”
Ngqongwe said the department would “not allocate fishing rights to individuals but to communities”.
“They will form cooperatives. It will ensure employment,” he said.
“Permits will specify how many boats they can use and how many people can fish on that permit.”
Ngqongwe said the department will start to verify small-scale fishers in coastal communities from April 4 for a two-month period before granting permits to them. He said the permits were “partly to address illegal fishing”.
“We cannot run away from the fact that there is an element of organised crime as well. You have gangsters involved in fishing and it is linked to poaching,” said Ngqongwe.
“In some instances we have seen on the West Coast there are drug dealers involved. We have a big problem of poaching, specifically abalone.
“We have seen trends where a lot of lobster have been taken out of the sea illegally.”
Small-scale fishing regulations are intended to ensure “implementation and management of the new sector”.
The department a “full legal framework is now in place to implement the small-scale fishing sector”.
“Fishing communities who want to be part of this process need to submit an expression of interest form to the department by April 7,” it said.