Inland small-scale fishers depending on fishing ground situated in Nature Reserves are in distress as they continue to be denied access to their traditional source of livelihood and food.

The Rolfointein Nature Reserve in the Northern Cape and all resorts in Free State have been used in the past months as quarantine areas for patients tested positive to COVID-19 and access is not permitted.

This was communicated by Minister Barbara Creecy in her response to Masifundise’s request to allow small-scale fishers to access Nature Reserves and Parks during lockdown.

While the need for creating quarantine areas was necessary, fishers living near these areas noticed that they were not used. This is in line with the reports that only one-third of these state-provided quarantine facilities have occupied beds.

Therefore, fishers are questioning the denial of access to the Nature Reserves.  “We missed big part of the carp fishing season due to lockdown” said Krysman Wilson, an angler from Petrusville, a fishing community in the Northern Cape. He has been fishing in the Rolfontein Nature Reserve for 15 years.  “It’s is not just COVID-19 that can kill us. Hunger can also kill. Why are we being denied to put food on the table?”

Fishers complain that they have not been consulted when the decision was made to locate the quarantine sites in the Nature Reserve and that they have not been provided with any kind of relief or support.

When they learned that the Minister was handing out parcels to fishers on the coast, they became even more frustrated. “We are happy that our brothers and sisters fishing on the coast are receiving at least some help in the form of food parcels, but what about us? We are not able to fish and the government is acting like we do not exist” said Hans Louw, a fisher living at Gariepdam, a community adjacent to Gariep Nature Reserve in the Free State.

During lockdown, inland small-scale fishers found themselves in a difficult situation. Due to the lack of a national policy recognizing their livelihood activities and regulating the sector. Inland fishers have been using recreational permits (also know as post office permits) to harvest fish. These permits were not valid during lockdown.

In addition to the damage of not being able to fish, fishers also paid for a permit that they cannot use “The post office permit cost me R50 at the beginning of the year. It might look like this is not a lot, but it is a lot of money for us fishers, especially now that we cannot even use it anymore” added  Hans Louw.

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