On 4 March, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) announced the traditional line fish total allowable effort (TAE) for the 2024/2025 fishing season, sparking deep dissatisfaction among small-scale fishers. Masifundise and Coastal Links had previously launched a petition urging Minister Barbara Creecy and DFFE to revise the traditional linefish allocation for fair distribution, aligning with commitments made to fishers over the years.

On 6 March, Masifundise and Coastal Links condemned the department’s TAE decision as inadequate in a media statement. It highlighted that, for small-scale fishers (SSF) in the Western Cape and Northern Cape, although the previous allocation of Interim Relief (IR) was included on the allocation to them, the number of people recognized under IR is smaller than the current total of recognized SSF. As a result, SSF are getting much less than before. This exacerbates the vulnerability of coastal communities, particularly in rural areas, where line fish is crucial for livelihoods and food security year-round. Furthermore, SSF in the Eastern Cape receive 18.7% (12 boats), and in Kwa-Zulu Natal, they receive 11.7% (6 boats), to be shared among 109 SSF cooperatives with over 7000 recognized SSFs across both provinces.

In response to the cries from the SSF co-operatives, DFFE released a statement on 13 March refuting the claims that that small-scale fishers have been allocated significantly less effort for the TAE for the current fishing season and that the allocation was based on  “equitable distribution and guided by scientific recommendations”. However, the department overlooked key factors, such as the authorisation of nearly 100 new individuals into the commercial sector in 2023, even without prior fishing experience, approved by the Minister. Additionally, the TAE reductions led to fewer boats allocated to SSF cooperatives for line fish compared to previous years.

Following numerous appeals to the department by Western Cape SSF cooperatives, along with advocacy efforts from Masifundise, the Legal Resources Centre, and Dr. Jackie Sunde from the One Ocean Hub, who engaged on this issue and threatened legal action, the department decided to increase the number of boats allocated for traditional line fish in each cooperative. However, no explanation or rationale was provided to justify their decision. This lack of transparency raises significant concerns, as it contradicts SSFP regulations, which stipulate that the apportionment of fishing effort must be determined after consultation with affected SSF communities. While many cooperatives are satisfied with the revised boat allocations, many are not.

“We contacted the department regarding our line fish allocation. Initially they granted 15 boats during interim relief, we applied for 18 for this season but were only allocated 8 boats. In Port Nolloth, we use 2-man boats of 4.95m length, this leaves 29 of our 45 active members without work and income, leading to significant internal conflict within our cooperative.” said Walter Steenkamp, chairperson for the Aukotowa Small-scale Fishing Cooperative, Northern Cape.

While acknowledging the concern regarding the sustainability of line fish species due to evidence of depletion, it’s important to recognize that small-scale fishers, who traditionally use small boats (referred to as bakkies) and employ sustainable fishing practices, rely on these species for their livelihoods. Therefore, their allocations should not be reduced. The department has overlooked the recreational boat-based fishery, which lacks adequate monitoring. Decreasing recreational boats would create space for local fishers dependent on fishing for their livelihoods.

The decision on TAE for line fish has also exposed small-scale fishers to harassment and criminalization for their livelihood activities. In March, small-scale fishers from Hondeklipbaai were intercepted by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and South African National Defence Force (SANDF) while engaging in the traditional practice of catching snoek. Upon their return, many local fishers had their snoek confiscated by the authorities. The operation, named “Vula Umgodi” and led by DFFE, allegedly targets illegal marine activities on the coast. However, it appeared to be yet another attempt to criminalise and intimidate small-scale fishers.

“Despite applying for snoek permits in early February, fishers along the coast were still awaiting to receive them from the department and were forced to acquire recreational permits to catch fish during the snoek season, a crucial period for their income generation. The targeting of this small coastal community, who is reliant on fishing for livelihood and income, is concerning.” said Jordan Volmink from Masifundise.

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