By Tsele Nthane, Serge Raemaekers and Nico Waldeck
Lamberts Bay fishers have been small-scale fishers for generations. Their fathers, to whom fishing was also a way of life, taught most of them. Fishing is of such immense cultural importance that it is ingrained in the identity of the Lamberts Bay fishers. They also endure the terrible consequences of apartheid, which denied them educational and livelihood opportunities.
As teenagers, many of the Lamberts Bay fishers had few other options but to work as crew for the white-owned fishing industry, while the women commonly worked in the lobster processing factory. Apartheid denied the fishers access to further education and stripped them of the right to make a livelihood.
Despite this dispossession, Lamberts Bay fishers have not lost their cultural attachment to fishing, which remains an integral part of their identity. Nevertheless, the post-apartheid individual quota allocation processes, despite intentions of redress, have had detrimental effects on the unity of the Lamberts Bay fishers.
“…see it divides the people, the quota system of that time, even divided the communities. Now they are like a bourgeoisie, and the other fishers are like the local fishers, and the latter have no money and so on. This discriminates against the bona fide fishers. But the bourgeoisie forgets that he was on the same level as that guy, but now he got a right [WCRLRH], he is like a Boer now, like a boss” said one Ronaldo*.
The flawed commercial quota allocations, and more recent attempts to redress this through yearly permits, while a new policy was being developed, most obviously divided the fishers into three groups:
- those with a West Coast Rock Lobster inshore commercial fishing right, issued in 2003, and then again for 10 years in 2005;
- those who managed to obtain an Interim Relief Permit (IRP), renewed annually since 2007;
- and then those with no legal use rights. The IRPs were issued to fishers because of the contested legality of the quota allocations, which invariably left many fishers without a livelihood.
Those who obtained commercial rights were able to invest, obtain better boats, and many managed to improve their relative socio-economic situation. Although few in numbers they are considered the elite in the community. The quota allocations thus led to grossly unjust income and food security differences between those with quotas and those without. In addition to the quotas’ polarising effect, many fishers were denied the right to fish outright. Thus, the quota allocations turned bona fide fishers into poachers and, thereby, criminals, virtually overnight.
For obvious reasons, a fisher needs a boat; and more boats mean more fish, which also mean more money. So when one group of fishers all own boats, and another group owns far fewer, the group with more boats dominates the other: socially and economically. In Lamberts Bay, the Quota holders all own boats, while most of the IRP fishers who don’t own boats, work as crew on boats of Quota holders.
“ …and suddenly a situation have unfolded…, if you could say, the one is becoming the boss, other one is becoming the worker, and the worker was now, in terms of the livelihood, depending on what we call, the site [job as boat assistant/crewman], on a boat of a rights holder [WCRLRH]. So that was very magnificent, it actually has disturbed the peace and the harmony in the community” commented Daniel*.
Women fishers involved in the post-harvest sector bear the brunt of the allocation process’s shortcomings. Male fishers, who were not successful in receiving rights, now join the post-harvest sector, squeezing out the women from a sector in which they traditionally dominated. The long-term legacy of this social engineering project, just like apartheid, is difficult to undo.
IRP fishers eke out a difficult existence because their marine harvest is limited to catching line-fish, with a small helping of lobster. Many households, primarily those with IRP, are food insecure because of the meagre income they receive from fishing and their dependency on loans. This externally imposed income inequality bred tension and division in the Lamberts Bay fishing community.
The life histories that once united all the fishers have slowly become eroded by the unintended effects of the allocation process. The lobster export companies have also exacerbated the community divisions between the IRP and the Quota holders by peddling loans using influential fishers, as ‘marketers’ or middlemen.
Combined with the vulnerability of the Lamberts Bay fishers, the loans have locked the fishers in a tragic cycle of economic dependence and serfdom with each passing season.
The new Small-Scale Fisher Policy (SSFP) primarily aims to rectify the dispossession of the fishers and unite them under a common policy that recognises their livelihood rights. To achieve this, the policy needed to extract the golden thread, the common identity, so diluted by the introduction of the Quotas.
“That is the kind of difference between those two rights holders, the commercial [WCRLRHs] one is not certain about his livelihood after 2015, while Interim man [IRP fisher] says that now this is his time to eat” emphasised George*.
At base, generations of tradition, history and culture centred on livelihood fishing, unites the fishers of Lamberts Bay. However, the other side of the coin is that the fishers also face similar livelihood challenges, an uncertain resource base and being price-takers in the value chain. This is irrespective of their fishing right or permit. It is these challenges the new SSFP seeks to address, and under this common cause, the fishers of Lamberts Bay may find unity and common purpose.
Capacity building and empowerment are the immediate needs facing all Lamberts Bay fishers. Many Lamberts Bay fishers communicated their desire to obtain financial management skills, because this will allow them to optimise the opportunities presented by the new policy’s implementation. These opportunities include the potential to develop a local Lamberts Bay fisher label marketed locally or exported internationally, partnerships with the retail sector to supply them with Lamberts Bay fish, and most importantly, successfully navigating the co-operative structures so central to the new SSFP.
Despite the divisive effect of the fisheries system, the fishers of Lamberts Bay remain friends, family, and neighbours. The new SSFP offers the hope of uniting the fishers under a timeless aspect, which is their identity as traditional fishers.
*The names of the fishers interviewed have been changed due to the sensitivity of the issues highlighted in this article.