Connected to the sea from childhood

DAVID Benjamin has been connected to the sea and fishing from a young age, catching fish and crayfish after school, when he was still at primary school, and both his parents worked in the fishing industry.

“My mother worked in the factory here in Port Nolloth, all her life, making the big factory owners rich, while she and other workers like herself struggled all their lives,” says Benjamin.

His father also worked as a mechanic fixing the boats of the fishing company and maintaining and servicing the machines and motors in the factory.

“In those days, when I was still a small boy, we used to sell the crayfish by the numbers, and not by its weight, as we do today.”

“We used to sell the crayfish for something like 10c a crayfish, and over a weekend, we could make up to R8, which was for us a lot of money in those days,” recalls Benjamin.

“The crayfish we caught we used to call it the ‘die poskantoor kreef’, because we caught it on the recreational permits that we had to take out at the post office.”

Benjamin was born and raised in Port Nolloth, in the Northern Cape Province, and as was the case in those days, most children in his community only completed schooling up to Standard Six, due to the previous government’s policy of discrimination and apartheid.

At the age of 13, after completing Standard Six, Benjamin started working on the fishing boats in Port Nolloth, catching mostly snoek, yellow tail and vaal tunny (tuna).

That was about 1972, as he can remember it, but he says that from 1976, he became a welder, and started to work for the fishing and diamond companies.

From 1976 until 1980, Benjamin worked in Swakopmund in Namibia, doing welding on the boats and fixing it.

After that, he spent another two years working in Oranjemund, also in Namibia, also as a welder on boats and in fishing factories.

After that he came back to South Africa and worked at the Marine West I Port Nolloth, and in 1993, he started to work for Alexkor, mining diamonds from the seabed.

He worked on the diamond boats until 1999, when the company decided that he and other workers should no longer be on the payroll of the company.

“They put us all out on contract, and told us that we must form our own company, and Alexkor will outsource our work to our company.”

Benjamin says that this business was doing well, but as is the case with many empowerment deals, it somehow went sour along the way.

He was eventually paid out a lump sum and is no longer part of the company that is providing mining services to Alexkor.

“While being part of the company at Alexkor, fishing quotas came out, and I wanted to apply for a quota. I was told that I could not apply, because I was already empowered in the mining industry, but still others who were also already empowered, even in mining also applied, and got quotas.”

So, in 2006, Benjamin became a fisher once again, today he is the proud owner of three small boats, two rowing boats and one with an outboard engine.

In the same year, he says he met people from Masifundise and Coastal Links SA (CLSA), and after listening to what they talked about, and what they want to achieve for small scale fishers, he joined CLSA.

“In all those years, while I was even doing other kinds of work like welding, I always used to fish, it is just something that is in me, I have to be connected to fishing, always.”

Benjamin is now 59 years old, married, the father of three sons (one passed away) and two daughters, and is also a proud grandfather.

Benjamin is one of 77 fishers in Port Nolloth who are allowed to fish on an Interim Relief (IR) permit.

At the moment they are on IR10 and Benjamin says there is no ways that he would wish for the community to be issued with IR11, since he wants the small scale fishing (SSF) policy to be implemented as soon as possible.

Out of the IR permit, the most profitable species is the West Coast Rock Lobster (WCRL), of which the Port Nolloth community gets 6.6 ton, which gives him on average as a fisher about 38 to 39 kg per year.

Before IR, he says that as a community they were on the subsistence permit, which only allowed them to take out about four WRCL per day.

Other fish he is allowed to catch on the IR permit are snoek, Cape bream, yellow tail, vaal tunny.

“We mostly catch the Cape bream.”

Benjamin says that they are never ready for the WCRL, they do not have a holding facility for it, as the factory that was abandoned by the previous owners is still being renovated.

This makes them vulnerable to marketers as they have to sell their crayfish, because they do not have the facilities.

“This also makes a lot of fishers lazy, and they don’t go out to sea anymore, they just wait for the money to come in.”

Benjamin is at the moment part of a fishing co-operative in his community, but says that this co-operative have not been functional at this stage.

Benjamin says that he would like to see the implementation of the SSF policy, and that a proper fishing holding facility could be built for their crayfish, to make them less dependent on marketers.

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