Indigenous knowledge, community participation and fishers rights must be strongly factored into the planning processes and management of Marine Protected areas.

This was strongly advocated by small-scale fishers and fisher representatives at an MPA forum attended by Masifundise and Coastal Links in Langebaan this week.

The Forum, organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature together with the Department of Environmental Affairs saw an increased number of small-scale fishers attending and contributing to discussions related to how the management of MPA’s directly affects their livelihoods.

Small scale fishers in South Africa have a troubled history with MPAs, almost all of which were declared “No Take Zones” with no consultation with communities living in or adjacent to the MPA’s. Fishing communities have been displaced; fishers have lost access to traditional fishing grounds and key areas for marine resource harvesting.

Masifundise’s Programme Coordinator Leila Emdon co-facilitated a discussion with Jackie Sunde and Merle Sowman of Environmental Evaluation Unit on the Human Dimensions of Marine Protected Areas. Kicking off the discussion on the importance of including small scale fishers in all matters related to MPA, Leila Emdon argued that small-scale fishers’ indigenous knowledge need to be incorporated in scientific research and that fishers need to be an integral part of all aspects of MPA planning and management.

The trio urged that all stakeholders must work closely with organisations and groups that represent small scale fishers.

Six members of Coastal Links South Africa, Sthembiso Mbongeni Shange (from Kosi Bay KZN), Gazani Thomas Nkuna (St Lucia MPA KZN), Malibongwe David Gongqose (Dwesa Cwebe Eastern Cape) and Norton Dowries from Langebaan spoke about their communities’ experiences of MPAs.

They said that many fishers experience little benefit from MPAs but they face exclusion by management and abuse from rangers. However, as they shared their concerns, they also explained that while they do not discredit the benefits of MPAs there needs to be a different relationship between conservation agencies and MPAs.

Some people in the audience criticised the fishers and openly disputed their testimonies, while others applauded the fishers for speaking openly at this platform and expressed a commitment to work closer with communities in future

Expressing her view about the forum, Leila Emdon said “We are pleased to see an attempt by conservation agencies to work with communities living adjacent to MPA’s and we are happy that there is a changing consciousness that is becoming more aware and attuned to communities affected by MPA’s”.

Despite the big strides made this past week in including small scale fishers in the conversation, Masifundise is still critical of the small number of community members that were able to be present at the forum.

“We hope that in years to come, more and more small scale fishers will be invited to the forum and will be an integral part of setting the agenda for the meeting, we remain critical of the dominance of a conservation and fisheries science agenda – devoid of community voices, devoid of the critical importance of marine resources in securing food sovereignty for small scale fishers in South Africa and devoid of incorporating indigenous knowledge and fishers rights in their research findings, management plans and spatial planning” she continued.

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