“DAFF is deaf to the cries, voices and concerns of small-scale fishers in South Africa,” that is the view of Norton Dowries, Western Cape Chairperson of Coastal Links South Africa, at the backdrop to their Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) Meeting taking place in Sea Point, Cape Town.

Dowries was speaking to “The Hook”, explaining some of the burning issues that were discussed at the PEC.

He says that the main burning issues are the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), and marketers, who both create problems for small-scale fishers and Coastal Links SA and their members.

“DAFF does not listen to the historical disadvantaged people, it seems like we cannot get through to them regarding our concerns and issues we face on a daily basis. It seems like they only listen to those who are privileged.”

Dowries says that in some instances, DAFF is going back on agreements they made with the fishing communities, and do not implement the agreements they signed.

“They give communities and people incorrect information, and in some instances fishers disappear from the Interim Relief Lists, and other people, who are not fishers are placed on the list. The department agreed that small-scale fishers will themselves identify the fishers to be placed on the list, but it does not seem like it anymore.”

Dowries says that marketers create indebtedness within the fishing communities, by lending fishers money in advance in order to get hold of the fish that is on their permits.

George Lenee, from Lamberts Bay, who also attended the PEC, and who is the chairperson of their local fishing co-operative, agrees with Dowries.

Lenee’s main concern is the role of the ‘caretakers’ and their relationships with the marketers.

“The ‘caretakers are appointed by the fishing communities, but in some instances DAFF appoints them directly, with no input from the communities,” says Lenee.

The ‘caretakers’ also have access to export permits, and through these export permits, Lenee says ‘caretakers’ become powerful and has everything ready for the marketer, who now only has to get a buyer overseas and export the fish.

Caretakers he says, also have the power to let your fishing permit lie idle at the department if you do not agree to sell your fish to the marketer of the caretaker’s choice, causing lots of pain and suffering in the time when the fisher cannot go out and catch his/her fish.

Lenee says that there is something called a ‘voorskot’ that marketers use to control the small-scale fishers, and to keep them indebted to them.

“By the time the fisher sells his/her fish, their IR permit is totally useless, and s/he will only get about R5000 out of it. All the other money has been paid out before the fish has been caught.”

Lenee believes that as fishers they seem to all have the same problems, but that it plays out differently in towns all over the Western Cape.

Cathy Thomas, the chairperson of CLSA in Laingville, St Helena Bay, says that DAFF does not give recognition to the people who fought hard to get the IR and the small-scale fishing policy in place.

“New fishing organisations are now springing up, and they are also recognised, but they did not fight for what we have today,” says Thomas.

She says that when they hand in their documentation to DAFF offices, that it disappears, and that the officials then deny that they ever received them.

“We have to travel far to come and lodge our documents, from far-flung rural towns to Cape Town, why are there no local offices.”

Thomas says that this is very expensive for them, and recently, she had to spend eight days in Cape Town, just to lodge documents.

“When I got to Cape Town, they were not ready for me. I went to live in Heathfield, and after a few days was told that I must come in at 10am the next day. When I got there the next day, I waited the whole day, and at the end of the day was told that my papers were not ready yet. I went back to Heathfield, and a few days later were told that my papers would be ready the next day at 3pm. I was only able to go back home after that”.

Thomas says the officials have no respect for the fishing communities, and nothing comes of the complaints that they lodge with the department.

Thomas says that in her community, people who work in a big fishing factory have now been issued with IR permits, and that in some instances even fishing monitors have IR permits.

Hilda April Adams, from the Mamre fishing community says that marketers want lots of crayfish for the export market, and that DAFF in some instances says that communities must sign up with one marketer.

She says that there is an interconnection between marketers, officials and their buddies in fishing communities and that DAFF in some instances have totally thrown the criteria to manage the IR permits out of the window.

All these issues were discussed in the PEC Meeting also, and the delegates have drawn up a plan of action to address it with DAFF.

Dowries says the PEC has four meetings per year.

The PEC consist of the chairperson, Dowries, deputy chairperson, Anthony Engel from Arniston, secretary, Florina Albertyn from Hawston, assistant secretary, Neil Joshua from Paternoster, and the chairpersons of all the fishing communities that are represented within CLSA in the Western Cape.

*We have requested that DAFF responds to this article, in the next edition of The Hook.

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