On the 13 and 14 June 2023, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park held its quarterly meeting with small-scale fishers from the surrounding areas in St Lucia, Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN). During the meeting, small-scale fishers from Coastal links KZN took the opportunity to raise serious concerns around the draft Estuary Management Plans for St Lucia, Mgobozeleni and Kosi Bay Estuaries.

iSimangaliso has three major estuary systems, viz. Lake St Lucia, Mgobozeleni and Kosi Bay, all of which are categorised as estuarine coastal lakes. The lake system has historically been a very significant source of food and livelihood for the communities that settled in this region.

An Estuary Management Plan (EMP) follows a three-step process that involves a scoping phase (Situation Assessment Report), objecting setting phase and the development of the implementation phase. Coastal Links KZN had expressed serious concerns regarding the Estuary Management plans as it does not recognise small-scale fishing taking place in the estuaries situated within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Some of the concerns regarding the plans include, the fact the management plans propose that only subsistence fishing be allowed, limited to personal consumption. It also fails to acknowledge the existence of 15 Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF) cooperatives and their current status. Despite being granted rights, these cooperatives face obstacles in exercising them due to restricted access to water bodies and limitations imposed by Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

iSimangaliso had initially scheduled dates for a proposed public participation process starting from 21 June, which was designed as roadshows to engage with the community regarding the draft Estuary Management Plans (EMPs). However, an important requirement stipulated in the National Estuarine Management Protocol of 2021 (“the Protocol”) is that a Situation Assessment Report (SAR) must be completed before initiating the consultation process for the draft management plans.

In the current SAR, there is no information pertaining to the socio-economic profiles of the fishing communities surrounding the park. On 20 June, a letter was sent by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) on behalf of the fishers to raise this issue and stated that the current draft does not provide information on socio-economic profiles of fishing communities and makes no reference to the customary rights of local communities.

“It is important to understand that the EMP consultation cannot take place without a completed Situation Assessment report. Without the socio-economic profile of fishing communities included in the plan the report is therefore incomplete and consultation is not to take place as consultants will not be fully informed” said Carmen Mannarino from Masifundise.

In a meeting with DFFE, Legal Resources Centre, One Ocean Hub (OOH) and Masifundise on 5 July, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) agreed that while consultation continues there will be another draft management plan that included the necessary information for fishers so they are able to effectively participate in consultation.

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