A hard-fought struggle to have rights and traditional way of life restored for Langebaan fishers was pulled away from under fishers’ noses when the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) issued fishing permits with conditions for the 2017/2018 fishing season.
The conditions on the fishing permits goes completely against the ruling of the Western Cape High Court made on October 31, 2016. The court ruled in favour of the Langebaan fishers, allowing them to fish in Zone B in the Langebaan Lagoon, a ruling that ultimately restored the way of life for small-scale fishers of Langebaan
“The ruling of the court was that we can fish in Zone B, but the permit conditions state that we cannot fish in Zone B, contradicting the ruling of the Western Cape High Court,” said Solene Smith, chairperson of Langebaan Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA).
Smith said that the permit conditions were unilaterally issued by DAFF and that fishers were not consulted in this regard.
“The High Court also specifically ruled that in future all decisions concerning the livelihoods of the fishers must be taken jointly by all the role-players concerned.”
The conditions to the permit allows for the status quo before the ruling of the High Court in October 2016 to remain in place.
What this means is that all the traditional small-scale fishers of Langebaan are still restricted to fish only in Zone A, this include the small commercial fishers from the Langebaan community, who all happen to be black.
On the other hand, three big commercial fishers are still continuing to be the only sector benefiting from the fishery resources..
Catching harders through net-fishing is an age-old tradition of the fishers of Langebaan, and when the previous apartheid government decided to make Langebaan a tourist destination, the fishers got caught up with the holiday makers.
The Lagoon was divided into Zones A and B, A for the holidaymakers and Zone B for the fishers, later a Zone C was added, taking some of the area of Zone B.
Zone C was for conservation purposes and the traditional fishers never had a problem with the conservation efforts to safeguard the fishing resources.
“As fishers we are aware that we need to preserve our resources and the introduction of Zone C was never an issue,” Norton Dowries commented.
But, later the fishers were moved out of Zone B and restricted to Zone A, where they once again had to compete with the holidaymakers to earn their livelihoods, and this became especially difficult during the holiday seasons.
That is the reason the fishers decided to look towards the court and legal system for relief, which they got, but now seems to be snatched away from them with the stroke of a pen.
“At the time of the court ruling, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) indicated that they were going to appeal the judgement, but up to now no-one has appealed, and the time for lodging an appeal has already passed,” said Smith.
Smith said that it is unacceptable that DAFF takes unilateral decisions without consulting the fishing community, disregarding the court, and maintaining the status quo which continues to privilege a few white people.
“We will not go to sea with these conditions to our permit, as a fishing community, we are going to oppose these permit conditions,” said Smith.
The Langebaan fishing community lodged their case in the High Court in August 2013, and on June 7, 2016, after numerous false starts, their case finally came before a judge. Before the legal action was pursued, the fishers tried to resolve the matter through discussions and negotiations, but this failed to yield any outcome.
Net fishers, through their organisation, Coastal Links South Africa then lodged a court case against the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Environmental Affairs, South African National Parks and the West Coast National Park in defence of their livelihoods.
The fishers were represented by the Legal Resources Centre.
Through the case, the Langebaan fishers sought to have their rights to sustainable livelihoods restored, which was taken away from them when they were prohibited from fishing in Zone B in the Langebaan Lagoon, which is also a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The Hook tried to contact DAFF for comment but at the time of publishing this article, we have had no response from DAFF officials.