The position and identity of women fishworkers in South Africa and their ‘resource tenure’ has historically been mediated by a complex constellation of power relations which have shifted over time. The women living and working in traditional small scale fishing communities have responded to the patriarchal, colonial, capitalist and racist relations that have impacted on them in different ways – at times as wives of fishermen, at times as fishworkers themselves, as defenders of poor coastal communities, as mothers of children lost at sea and now, more recently, as women demanding their own rights to marine resources in South Africa for food security and sustainable livelihoods. The current context is contradictory for women. On the one hand statutory gender equity initiatives are opening up positive resource access for women as new fishing rights holders and yet, in many instances, access to marine resources for their male partners and their communities as a whole is shrinking. Will these women be able to respond to the challenges presented to them on a global, local and personal level and retain this tenure, not merely formally but substantively? Will the presence of women rights holders facilitate a much needed paradigm shift in South African fisheries, contributing towards the transformation of an exploitative industry into a ‘nurture fisheries’ , thereby ensuring sustainable livelihoods for their communities?