IN JANUARY NEXT YEAR, the trek-net fishers of Langebaan will be going to court to assert their right to earn a sustainable livelihood.
Net fishers, through their organisation, Coastal Links South Africa are lodging a court case against the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Environmental Affairs, South African National Parks and the West Coast National Park in defence of their livelihoods.
They want these government departments and agencies to set aside certain conditions set upon them that restrict them to only catch fish in Zone A of the Langebaan Lagoon, and would also want to be allowed to catch fish in Zone B, since there is a larger stock of harders, and because they do not target fish that is in need of protection that is found in Zone B.
The government departments and agencies have put in place conditions which restrict the Langebaan traditional netfishers to Zone A in the Langebaan Lagoon, where the fish species they target, harders, are not plentiful, and where they also have to compete with holiday makers for space.
Under its status as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), the Langebaan Lagoon has been divided into three Zones, namely Zone A, B and C, with the aim to restrict certain activities to protect the marine life in the lagoon.
Zone C is a complete no take zone, no-one is allowed to catch fish there, and it is reserved for breeding and replenishment of the fish stock. The fishers have no problems with this restriction, since they support efforts to protect the marine resources.
Traditional fishers have waged a protracted struggle to have their rights to fish in Zone B restored, because at the moment they compete with recreational fishers, kite flyers, scuba divers and the general holiday maker in Zone A.
Three white fishers from Churchaven, on the other hand, due to an agreement they signed with the Parks Board in the early 1990s, are the only ones allowed to fish in Zone B. Small-scale fishers in Langebaan regard this as blatant racial discrimination which has no place in a democratic South Africa.
Net-fishers have been part of the Langebaan community for centuries, and for a great part of the existence of Langebaan, the majority of people living there have been netfishers. For the last fifty years the survival of the Langebaan netfishers have come under increased pressure, due to the government, both local and national having turned Langebaan into a tourist destination.
Development to accommodate tourists and holiday makers has sprung up all over Langebaan, and, today the tourist industry is booming.
This was done at the expense of the small-scale net fishing community, who now have to compete with all these holiday makers when they go out to fish, they scare away the fish, they get in the way of the fishers and their nets, reducing their daily catch considerably and causing considerable financial losses when their nets break. All these people place a huge strain on the traditional fishers and make it difficult for them to return from the sea with a good sustainable catch.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of what the traditional net fishers experience on a daily basis in their attempt to eke out a meagre living on the waters of the Langebaan Lagoon.
We call on government to intervene in favour of the small-scale fishers and for the community to support them in their just struggle for sustainable livelihoods.
Issued by Naseegh Jaffer, Masifundise Development Trust
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