Gansbaai is a small fishing town on the south coast of the Western Cape and a popular tourist destination in the Overberg District Municipality. It is known for its dense population of great white sharks and as a whale watching location.

It is also a town of fishers, who have a long tradition of net and landline fishing, targeting a range of species, which include rock lobster and cob, harders and others.

Presently there are about 80 small-scale fishers belonging to Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA) of whom 29 have fishing rights under the Interim Relief (IR) system.

Cathy Sauls, chairperson of CLSA in Gansbaai believes this is a bit unfair since it excludes a lot of small scale fishers from their right to earn a living, and she hopes that once the small scale fishing policy gets implemented, this unfairness will become something of the past.

Sauls says that the small scale fishers who do not have IR permits, work on the boats of other small scale fishers who have long term near-shore fishing rights.

“These near-shore rights holders are also regarded as small-scale fishers, but they are not members of CLSA, but, they play an important role in providing work to members of the community,” says Sauls.

The women mainly work in the factory, or the three perlemoen farms, where most of them are employed as seasonal workers.

“Women also used to provide the service to ‘vlek’ fish (cutting, cleaning and gutting) at the harbour, but this is no longer possible, since the tables at the harbour have been removed.”

Sauls says that people now either ‘vlek’ their own fish, or take it to the homes of the ‘vlek ladies’, or ask them to come and vlek the fish at their own homes.

“We will be happy if we can get permits for net-fishing, since we have been doing that for many years. The men can trek and the women can make bokkoms (dried fish).”

Sauls says that only a few people are employed at the canning factory and the perlemoen farms, and that the seasonal work is not always good because if the season is not good, less seasonal workers get employed.

Of the almost 12 000 people in Gansbaai, not all are fishers, and many work in other industries, but, Sauls says that the unemployment rate in Gansbaai is very high.

On top of that, when the fishers are not able to get any fish, and the fishing season is bad, it contributes to more hardship in the community, as fishers play an important role in putting food on the tables in many homes, besides their own.

“It is very sad for me to see the fishermen sitting on the koppie, looking out to the sea, and they have not earned a living for weeks, and not being able to provide for their families.”

Some of the problems fishers are experiencing are the effects of climate change and El Nino, which caused the water temperature to rise and many of the fish and sharks to move away from their fishing grounds.

This affected both the fishing and tourists industries, as the fishers could not fish and the people involved in shark cage diving could not work, with both having a negative effect in the community.

The line fish permits of the fishers who are on IR have not been collected from DAFF for this season yet, which makes it impossible for the small-scale fishers to go out fishing. Coupled with this season’s El Nino weather phenomena, it created extra difficulties for the community of Gansbaai.

Sauls says that enforcement of fishing and environmental regulations are strictly policed in the Gansbaai region, to the extent that as fishers they sometimes feel that they are in a prison, and not at sea.

However, Sauls does see some light at the end of the tunnel, as the water temperatures are starting to return to normal and some of the fish are returning to their natural feeding grounds.

“We are also thinking of starting some projects in the community which can look at job creation, and tackling social issues like crime and drugs.”

The community is also anxiously awaiting the implementation of the small scale fishing policy, as it hopes that it will solve some of the many problems they are experiencing.

“We would like to see what will be included in the policy, we would like to get of all the species, up to 30 species, and the catch area must also be wide. Gansbaai falls under Basket Area B.”

Coastal Links in Gansbaai have an active branch, with a duly elected executive committee and Sauls says they hold regular monthly meetings.

Sauls says that she has been involved in the fishing industry for more than 40 years, first having worked in the factory, and the last 14 years working on the boats, going out to sea.

She also describes herself as a community person, working closely with other community organisations, creating networks and linkages between different organisations for the benefit of the fishers and the broader community.

“The main tourist attraction in Gansbaai since approximately 1995 has been cage diving with great white sharks. It is said that after the Kruger National Park, the great white sharks attract some of the highest number of tourists to South Africa,”  according to Wikipedia

Another tourist attraction is Klipgat Cave which is located in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, one of the most important historical sites in the Western Cape.

The earliest evidence of the presence of sheep-herding Khoi people in the Western Cape has been found in Klipgat Cave as well. Until the arrival of the first white settlers at the end of the 18th century, the Khoi people thrived in this region.

People of Khoi descent erected the first permanent settlement in Gansbaai, and in 1811, fishing cottages were built.

The first white settlers were nomadic farmers (trekboere), who copied the Khoi’s farming techniques, and many of the old original homesteads and mudstone houses of the original white farmers can still be found around Gansbaai.

Another important landmark in Gansbaai is the Danger Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1895, it is estimated that more than 140 ships and thousands of lives have been lost between Danger Point and Cape Infanta.

One such ship was the HMS Birkenhead, which was wrecked off Danger Point in 1852, carrying Welsh and Scottish soldiers and their officers and family on their way to Eastern Cape to fight the Xhosa. The rock, which caused its sinking, is now called Birkenhead Rock.

Gansbaai was founded, according to local storytellers, in 1881 and it was called “Gansbaai” after the colony of Egyptian geese that gathered at the freshwater fountain in the present day Gansbaai Harbour.

In 1939 the Gansbaai economy received an economic boost when a small factory was built to process shark liver for Vitamin A and lubricant, which was in great demand during World War 2, but, after the war, the demand fell and the few years of prosperity were over.

A fishmeal and canning factory was built, after a local school principal persuaded fishermen to set up what became known as the first fishing co-operative in South Africa.

He helped them obtain capital from the Fisheries Development Corporation with which they deepened the harbour and established a modern fishmeal factory, which together with its canning division, today still provides work to the community.

The town became a municipality in 1963, but in the post-apartheid era it became part of the much larger Overstrand Muncipality, which falls under the Overberg District Municipality.

Its economy mainly revolves around fishing, but, tourism seems to have become a great economic driver, incorporating shark diving, whale watching and its vast tracts of fynbos.

The great white shark, the southern right whale and fynbos also create the possibility for secondary business sectors like the hospitality industry to thrive.

The latest 2011 census put the population of Gansbaai at about 12 000 people, of whom mostly speaks Afrikaans.

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