A cooperative established with a R3 million government grant, given to a group of 120 fisher­men in ­Doring Bay and Ebenhaezer on the West Coast, could act as a model for the rest of the country’s small-scale fishermen who have been struggling to sustain their ­livelihood in the face of fishing- quota restrictions

Doring Bay fisherman Hahn ­Goliath said the societal problems and divisions the fishing quota system had caused within the community had led the fishermen to approach the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for funding.

The grant, which was handed over last month, is intended for the establishment of 10 cooperatives, the purchase of much-needed equipment and boats, and also courses in health and safety.

Goliath said the 2005 General Policy on the Allocation and ­Management of Long-Term ­Commercial Fishing Rights ­largely excluded the small-scale fishermen, leading to increased poverty and family breakdowns. He said large commercial fisheries “took more than half the cake” when it came to quota allocation and the quotas allocated to small fishermen were hardly enough for them to survive on.

“If fishermen are not successful in getting quotas, they can’t fish. There are teachers and lawyers with allocations, but people near the sea have no income and can’t put bread on the table.

“You then have children dropping out of school, and the scale of drug use and ­teenage pregnancies is high. The individual quota system does not ­empower the people,” said Goliath.

“We are struggling with ­resources now, but by pooling our resources through the cooperatives, we can achieve more.”

By establishing cooperatives, the fishermen hope to reunite the community and protect their ­tradition of living off the sea.

“We want to bring back the tradition of small-scale fishing to protect it.

“We need to stand together as a collective. We cannot wait for government. We hope that other fishing communities can take this lesson from us and be inspired to help themselves,” said Goliath.

Although the fishermen would be involved in running the cooperatives, a respected and knowledgable community member has been assigned to guide in management. The government will train the groups for six months regarding budgeting and management.

Senior lecturer at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies Moenieba Isaacs said the cooperative system would work if the money was used wisely and if the fishermen engaged with the market as a collective.

Benefits needed to return to them as a ­collective, rather than one individual managing the cooperative and benefiting exclusively from it.

With the support of the DTI and the agriculture, forestry and fisheries department, fishermen could be trained to ­manage the cooperatives, said Isaacs. She added that the funding given to the Doring Bay fishermen could act as a pilot case study for other fishing communities.

“The money allocated to these communities could implement some of the proposals made in the small-scale policy and act as pilot case studies for many other coastal communities,” Isaacs said.

The small-scale policy she ­refers to is the draft Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector, which was made available for public comment in August last year.

The director of Masifundise – an NGO working with fishing communities – Naseegh Jaffer, who was on the task team to develop the new policy, said it had “sweeping new proposals” designed to ­accommodate small fishermen, creating equity rather than competition.

The proposals include a ­removal of the quota system, that small-scale fishermen be allowed to catch multiple species of fish, and, instead of sharing waters with commercial fishermen, small-scale ­fishermen be given an exclusive zone from which to fish.

Isaacs said the fisheries cooperative could address some of the issues not included in the draft policy. “A key issue that the small-scale policy is neglecting is what species would be allocated to the fishers.”

Other issues included the value that could be added to existing ­species, the role of aquaculture, the activities of women in the post-harvest sector and linking the cooperatives to tourism.

DTI media liaison officer ­Bongani Lukhele said the department was not willing to comment.

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