Small scale fishers at Van der Kloof Dam in the Northern Cape are forging ahead and slowly making progress towards establishing sustainable livelihoods, but a long road still lies ahead.

Michelle Joshua, Masifundise Development Fieldworker who works with the fishers at Van der Kloof, said that they appreciated the support given to the Van der Kloof fishers by the Department of Water and Sanitation to legitimise the kraal fishery and giving the fishers access to the kraals at the dam.

Masifundise first ventured into inland fisheries when they were invited by the Rural Fisheries Programme of the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University to work with the fishers at Van der Kloof Dam.

The Rural Fisheries Programme is contracted by the Northern Cape Government to set up a fisheries project at the dam to help the communities living around and who are dependent on the dam, to become self-sustaining and to work towards sustainable livelihoods.

Masifundise was called in to help organise the people fishing at the dam into formations through which they can represent themselves in the project and raise issues facing their communities.

Joshua said they have come a long way since those first days in 2014, when they were introduced to the fishery at the dam.

At the start of the project it was discovered that the fishers at the dam were making use of kraals to harvest fish in the dam.

This, it was discovered was a customary and traditional livelihood practice of the communities and that it dated back many centuries.

Older people in the communities of Petrusville, Keurtjieskloof, Luckhoff and Phillipstown, all relate how the kraals were set up when the dam was built more than 40 years ago, and that they had similar kraals further up the Orange River where they came from before they were relocated to the surrounding communities of the dam.

“Our people were brought here to build the dam in the 1970s,” Raphael Benadie, chairperson of the Keurtjieskloof Vissers Gemeenskap explained to us in the beginning.

Joshua said that when the kraal fisheries were discovered that it became important for the fishers, the Rural Fisheries Programme and Masifundise to first secure the fishers’ right to harvest fish from the kraals.

“About three years ago, the fishers started to experience problems when the management at the dam started to put up fences and locks on gates all around the dam, effectively banning the fishers from access to the kraals and to fish in the dams,” said Joshua.

Apart from being denied access to the kraals and the dam, the fishers also experienced problems from the recreational fishers at the dam, who for selfish interests, felt it was better to have the fishers denied access to the dam and the kraals.

When the discussion regarding the experimental fishery project got off the ground, the recreational fishers through their organisations became a stumbling block, by insisting that the fishers not catch the ‘largemouth yellowfish’.

Their contention was that the largemouth yellowfish is an endangered species and that it should not be caught, their demands ranged from that the kraals should not be used to fishers to put the large mouth yellowfish back into the water.

It was however agreed that the large mouth yellowfish is not endangered, and that it is not listed as such and that the fishers be allowed to catch it.

Fishers were also continuously harassed by the police and fined, but the fishers’ organisations of Keurtjieskloof, Petrusville and Luckhoff managed to put an end to this harassment when they recently approached the prosecutor at the local magistrate’s court when some fishers appeared for trespassing at the dam.

“The magistrate and the prosecutor put the fishers’ case aside, and asked us to come in and discuss our situation with them, they asked us to give them a letter from the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS) for future cases,” said Benadie at the time.

Benadie said that the court took into consideration that all that the fishers wanted was to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves, their families and their communities.

So, recently at the last Advisory Group Meeting, which is a consultative forum of community organisations and government departments and agencies that discuss issues related to the fisheries project at the dam, it was decided that the fishers will no longer be prosecuted for trespassing at the dam.

It was also agreed that the fisheries project can now go ahead full-steam, as the fishers were hesitant in the past to participate in the initial stages of the project since they could be harassed by the police for being on the property of the dam.

A safety protocols workshop was conducted on April 26 at the dam with the fishers, representatives from DWS and Eskom.

Lorenzo Danster, the chairperson of the Petrusville Vissers Gemeenskap is optimistic about the recent development.

“Once we start implementing the project, we can start creating a better life for our communities, we can create work, we can start creating better sustainable communities,” said Danster.

Danster is especially pleased that in the initial stages some of the fishers will be employed on the experimental project and that they will be taught new skills, and will get training.

“If through the project, our finances improve, we will even look at making donations to schools and other important institutions in our communities, to help in uplifting our communities,” said Danster.

Now that the kraal fishery has been given legitimacy, and the project is kicking off, Danster said they will start looking at processing their fish, looking at new markets, and also expand into other business activities like the tourism and hospitality industries since those are popular in Van der Kloof at certain times of the year.

At the moment the fishers only sell their fish to people within their communities, but Danster is certain that they can sell their fish in much higher volumes and that they can also target restaurants and take-away outlets.

Fishers will now all be registered and be issued with permits which will show that they are legitimate fishers at Van der Kloof Dam.

Qurban Rouhani of the Rural Fisheries Programme said that the fishers has drawn up a logo that they will use for this purpose, but that some time ago the recreational fishers told them that they could not use the logo because the large mouth yellowfish was depicted on the logo.

Rouhani said that the recreational fishers regard the large mouth yellowfish as their personal property and that the fishers have no right to it, but that they will just use the logo, because the fish is not their property.

Later this month, it is envisaged that a Van der Kloof fishers’ delegation will travel to Cape Town to attend the Masifundise/Coastal Links AGM at the end of May 2016.

Joshua said that the purpose of the trip is for the Van der Kloof fishers to look at joining up with a bigger organisation to give them more muscle when engaging with other organisations and institutions.