On 17th May Masifundise and small-scale fisher representatives held a meeting with the Commissioner from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Jonas Sibanyoni at the annual National Strategic Forum (NSF).

In light of the Small-scale Fisheries Policy (2012) being developed with a human rights-based approach, Masifundise deemed it necessary to bring the SAHRC into the sphere of small-scale fisheries in South Africa.

“Small-scale fishers were excluded from the policy regulations despite having helped draft the policy. There is now a huge disconnect between policy and its implementation. Voices of communities are not adequately heard by government” said Naseegh Jaffer from Masifundise during the meeting.

Having the SA Human Rights Commission hear the concerns of small-scale fishers is crucial for integrating their issues into the policy and decision-making processes at all government levels.

Representatives from coastal and inland fishing communities in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape presented the challenges faced in the sector to Commissioner Sibanyoni. Fisher representatives shared how, conservation and marine protected areas impede small-scale fisheries’ ability to sustain their livelihoods and exercise their rights. Furthermore, the lack of recognition of customary fishing rights leading to the criminalization and harassment of SSF while conducting livelihood activities. The detrimental effects of extractive developments and coastal mining pose a threat to environmental protection and the marine life that fisherfolk rely on.

The commissioner was also informed about the struggles of women in small-scale fisheries. Vanessa Chalk, from the KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk, highlighted how women’s human rights are not recognised and respected in the sector. Fisher women are underrepresented in governance of ocean and freshwater natural resources, and therefore are denied their right to food, livelihood and the environment.

Following the presentations, the Commissioner had the opportunity to respond to the participants. Sibanyoni acknowledged the struggle of the small-scale fishers and took record of the current challenges they face in the realisation of their human rights.

Sibanyoni committed to seeking an audience with the Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). In addition, he will report back to the body of commissioners and discuss what can be done to address the inequalities.

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