This week, The Hook takes a look at other marine resources that small-scale fishing communities can utilise to make a living.

With the increase of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and other activities that take place in the ocean, sea life is facing danger and fish are slowly becoming a thin resource. With this in mind, and also taking a look at the fact that sea conditions are not always favourable for fishers, in this edition, The Hook take a look at how Kelp can be used by fisherfolk to make a living.

Kelps are large seaweeds (algae) belonging to the brown algae.

Kelp grows in “underwater forests” (kelp forests) in shallow oceans, and is thought to have appeared in the Miocene, 23 to 5 million years ago. Kelp requires nutrient-rich water with temperatures between 6 and 14 °C (43 and 57 °F). They are known for their high growth rate—the genera Macrocystis and Nereocystis can grow as fast as half a metre a day, ultimately reaching 30 to 80 metres (Wikipidea, 2016).

Kelp has many uses, it is used commercially and also traditionally. In South Africa, its use is traced to the middle stoned age where human use of marine resources included the harvesting of foods such as abalones, limpets, and mussels associated with kelp forest habitats.

Today, different kinds of Kelp are used for different purposes such as abalone feed, as moisture retainer in horticulture and agriculture, as a garnish for sushi, to make toothpastes, shampoos, salad dressings, puddings, cakes, dairy products, frozen foods, and even pharmaceuticals.

To be able to know how kelp is used to make these products, small-scale fishing communities will have to gather knowledge, they do not have to necessarily make these products themselves but can collect kelp and distribute to companies who make these products.

Kelp is by far the most abundant seaweed on the west coast shores of South Africa, but there are also almost 400 other seaweed species and hundreds of species of animals that live in or around the kelp beds, and many of these depend on the kelp in some way.

The kelp is eaten directly by many animals (herbivores) such as abalone, sea urchins, snails (e.g. alikreukel), limpets and chitons and besides providing food to various animals, the kelp beds are a vital habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, providing shade, some shelter from wave-action, and homes among the fronds and large, root-like holdfasts ( Anderson and Rotman, Guide to Kelp harvesting, 2012).

In South Africa, Kelp can be collected for commercial use. Currently the South African seaweed fishery is based on: Beach-cast collection of kelps (Western and Northern Cape), Harvesting of kelps (Western and Northern Cape) and Harvesting of Gelidium species (Eastern Cape) and rights were allocated for ten years (DAFF, 2013).

Though much of the seaweed that is currently harvested is exported for the extraction of gums exporting of kelp has low value because the international seaweed industry is controlled mainly by large international companies that can manipulate prices. Because of this large quantities of fresh kelp are now used as feed for farmed abalone (more than 6000 tonnes fresh weight of kelp in 2011, with a market value over R8 million), and in some areas fresh kelp is harvested for local processing into high-value plant growth stimulants that are marketed locally and internationally to more than 30 countries.

We can see these activities in abalone farms like in Doringbaai, Gaansbaai and Buffeljagsbaai, where you would find the youth collecting kelp to use as feed.

“A work in progress, at least it takes some of our youth off the streets even though some of them are not from the community,” commented Sarah Niemand from Buffeljagsbaai.

The sea has a number of resources that small-scale fishing communities can utilise as a way to sustain their livelihoods, in the long run, communities have to keep in mind that fish is not an infinite resource and communities will have to come up with alternative or supplementary ways of sustaining their livelihoods.

In the coming weeks, from time to time, The Hook will take a look at alternative/supplementary ways of sustaining small-scale fisheries livelihoods.