Fisher who cut his teeth on the big trawl and diamond ships

Christiaan Mackenzie, chairperson of Coastal Links SA (CLSA) Port Nolloth branch says that he cut his teeth 30 years ago as a fisherman on the diamond ships and on the big trawl ships of the local John Owenstone factory in Port Nolloth.

But, today, he says the diamond mining company has become one of the biggest obstacles in the way of small scale-fishers living sustainable lives, and that the John Owenstone factory has closed down and moved their operations to greener pastures in the Western Cape.

Mackenzie was born in Brakput,  O’Kiep, a small Namaqualand town in the Norther Cape, near the border with Namibia.

He lived here until he was about one years old, when his family moved to Port Nolloth, here he completed his schooling until St 7 at the local Roman Catholic Church School, which at that stage could only offer schooling up to St 7.

“I then moved to Concordia High School, where I completed my schooling up to St 8 at Concordia High School in Springbok, and the next year, in 1985, when I was 16 years old, I started working with my father on the fishing boats.

Mackenzie is one of four children, he has two sisters and one brother, his mother still lives in Port Nolloth, and his father, who is originally from Elsies River in Cape Town, passed away six years ago.

His father was a fisherman, and through his work on many boats and for different companies, he ended up in the Northern Cape.

“My father was a seaman all his life, he worked on the boats here in Port Nolloth and caught fish. He also worked in many ports in Namibia and South Africa,” says Mackenzie.

Mackenzie is married and has four children, two sons and two daughters.

He then immediately in 1985, started working at Transhex, a diamond mining company, mining for diamonds at the bottom of the sea.

He worked there for six months, and after that started working on the boats of the local lobster factory, John Owenstone in Port Nolloth.

“I worked on the Oosterdam, the Jenny Dawn and the Kirstenberg, all these boats were trawlers.  The Oosterdam and the Kirstenberg are both in Cape Town, and the Jenny Dawn sank,” says Mackenzie.

The John Owenstone factory closed, and the Department of Public Works is now busy refurbishing the factory, for the benefit of the fishing community, according to Mackenzie.

Port Lobster, a company formed by quota holders from Port Nolloth, will take charge of the factory, and Mackenzie says that they have agreed that the small scale fishers can make use of the factory lobster dams to store their lobsters in.

“We will hire the lobster dams from Port Lobster, and we will also be able to process our fish in the factory.”

One of the biggest problems small scale fishers in Port Nolloth face are with the diamond sea mining and tourism industries.

“In the first instance, the beaches are cordoned off and the fishers are not allowed within the cordoned areas”.

“We only have 20km of beach within which we can work, 10km in the north, and 10km to  the south of Port Nolloth,” says McKenzie.

On top of that, MacKenzie says that the diamond ships, which are extremely large compared to their small dinghies, pump for diamonds in the areas that they work.

“Our biggest problem is that they cannot see us, because their ships are so big, and if we are not careful they can easily run us over.”

“They destroy the environment that is much needed for the survival of the rock lobster, and through the noise and mining, chase the lobster out of its natural habitat”.

Mackenzie says the activities of the mining ships cause the lobster to run into the rifts, which are dangerous areas for the small boats to go into.

The other problem they have is that they are not not allowed to catch any fish in Alexander Bay, but the recreational fishers are allowed to catch there, MacKenzie believes this is done in order to draw tourists from all over, especially the Free State and Gauteng.

Mackenzie catches his fish on a Interim Relief (IR) permit, and this permit allows him to catch 57:species of fish, of which he is not certain of most of the species he is allowed to catch.

“I therefore mainly concentrate on catching rock lobster, snoek, yellow tail, occasionally tuna and hotnot fish (bream).”

In Port Nolloth there are 77 small scale fishers registered for IR, some of whom are CLSA members.

He believes that the IR system has been good for the fishers who have been on it, since it helps them to live sustainable livelihoods.

It is however like a double-edged sword, since it also causes a lot of disunity amongst fishers, causing fishers to be exploited by the marketers, and only takes care of the fishers that are within the system, and excludes others.

“Marketers cause a lot of disunity in the fishing communities, and they work in such a way that you are forced to sell your fish to them once the majority has agreed on who to sell to.”

Mackenzie says that they have an IR committee in Port Nolloth, and the marketers sit in these meetings and contribute to the discussions they have and influence their decisions.

He says that some of the IR permit holders selling their rights completely to the marketers, who then catch the lobster themselves, and some of the lobster they catch in Cape Town, and this cause over catching, causing their allocations to be cut every year by DAFF.

Mackenzie says that the marketers make the fishers indebted to them, and by the time they get paid for their fish, they get about R5000 for fish that are worth between R30 000 – R40 000.

“I would like to see that we have one organisation that can handle all our fishing rights and sell our fish for us with a reasonable sum coming to us as small-scale fishers, I don’t want any middleman.”

At the moment, Mackenzie sells his fish like all the other small-scale fishers; “We either sell directly to the marketer of the factory, or we sell it straight to the people who will eat the fish, going from house to house, after we have been to sea. Other times we will process it at home, gut it, lightly salt it, put it in the freezer, and keep it to sell later.”

On his permit, Mackenzie says he can catch up to 420 snoeke per week, and on a good day, he can catch about 100 snoeke.

For the future he wants the small-scale fishing (SSF) policy to be implemented as soon as possible, to do away with the many problems they currently experience under the IR.

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