Fisheries Class Action: One decade later

A decade ago, several small-scale fishing communities embarked on collective action that changed the course of fisheries in South Africa.

The exclusion of the sector from rights allocations in 2004, led to court and mass action by the fishers, who were led by Masifundise and Coastal Links.

“Fisher’s had a common purpose. There was one thing on our minds, access to rights and marine resources” recalls Nico Waldeck, Masifundise’s staff member.

The fishers approached the Equality Court in 2005, a decade ago. The following year, the fishers won a historic victory when the Court ordered the formulation of a small-scale fisheries policy that would give the sector legal recognition and fishery rights.

The SSF policy was finally adopted in 2012 and the MLRA amended in 2014 in order to allow for the policy to be implemented.

“We wanted legal recognition for small-scale fishers and we mobilised fishing communities for this to happen,” commented Masifundise Director Naseegh Jaffer.

“If the state was not going to give the fishers their rights, we were willing to escalate community mobilisation through mass action of various forms,” continued Jaffer, “we were going to increase ungovernability  of fishing harbours and maybe even promote illegal fishing of small-scale fishers because of rights, skills and other ways of earning a living”.

It took ten long years for the policy to be formulated and adopted and for laws to be amended to allow for the policy’s implementation to take place. Preparations are currently being made for implementation to take place and it is due to start in 2016.

Masifundise and Coastal Links were supported by partners such as the Legal Resources Centre and PLAAS.

THE HOOK will start a series next week about the equality court action and the process that followed. Some of the key role-players in this process will provide insight into the struggle for human rights by small-scale fishers, the policy that resulted and the challenges that still need to be navigated.

Vanderkloof fishers get organised

Fishers in several communities around the Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape are getting organised so that they can stake their claim for food security.

Members of Masifundise – Michelle Joshua, Nico Waldeck and Mansoor Jaffer – attended a meeting in Petrusville last week where community members indicated their intention to establish a committee that would represent their interests.

In a region with widespread poverty and chronic job shortages, fishing is a critical source of income that can mean the difference between survival and destitution.

Committees will also shortly be set up in places such as Kleurtjieskloof, Luckhoff and Phillipstown, among other places.

Clarence Oliphant, 28, from Kleurtjieskloof, is married with one child and another on its way. He battles to find permanent work and has always fished to supplement his income.  “When we fish, we can  put food on the table at night and sell some of the catch for some additional income,” he told The Hook.

Mara Bezuidenhout, from Petrusville, proudly shows me a picture of her son Dillon, who is studying at a technikon in Bloemfontein. She has worked as a domestic worker for periods in the past, but has regularly fished during hard times.

“The income I have made through fishing helps to support Dillon through his studies, “ said Mara proudly, as she points to the picture of her only son.

In April, Masifundise took its first small steps into the world of fresh water fisheries when a two person delegation embarked on a visit to Vanderkloof Dam outside Orania in April.

South Africa has thousands of dams and rivers.

Wipekedia states:

“In South Africa we depend mostly on rivers, dams and underground water for our water supply. The country does not get a lot of rain, less than 500mm a year. In fact, South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world. To make sure that we have enough water to drink, to grow food and for industries, the government builds dams to store water. These dams make sure that communities do not run out of water in times of drought. About half of South Africa’s annual rainfall is stored in dams. Dams can also prevent flooding when there is an overabundance of water. We have more than 500 government dams in South Africa, with a total capacity of 37 000 million cubic metres (about 15-million Olympic-sized swimming pools).”

During the April visit, the Masifundise delegation met with a range of stakeholders discussing a government proposal that explores the potential of fishing in the dam for livelihoods and poverty alleviation.

The government’s announcement of an experimentation project has stirred some controversy with a powerful lobby of recreational fishers claiming that the fish resource was under threat.

The proponents of the project, the government and other stakeholders, say that from their observations, there is fish in abundance.

However, there has been no recent scientific research done and so claims of abundance or scarcity are largely anectodal.

In a separate matter, small-scale fishers are being blocked from kraal fishing near the dam wall, because it is located in a security zone. Fishers have been arrested inside and outside the zone for either trespassing or fishing illegally.

The kraal fishing, which entails building a safe area surrounded by rocks, is an ancient Khoisan method. Mealies are placed in the space and when the water rises, the fish head there to feed. When the sluice gates close, the water rapidly drops and the fish are trapped in the kraal.

Masifundise supports the rights of small-scale fishers to sustainable livelihoods.

Promotion of equity and Preferential Access

The primary objective of the Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) policy is to introduce certain fundamental shifts in Government’s approach to the Small Scale fisheries sector. (Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa, 2012).

The hook has been constantly highlighting Key policy objectives as outlined in the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy. This week we take a look at the promotion of equity and preferential access for small-scale fishers to critical infrastructure and amenities such as land and at landing site.

Promoting equity and preferential access to amenities and infrastructure such as land, landing sites, storage facilities, boats and training for small-scale fishers is one such fundamental shift in government’s approach towards the small-scale fisheries sector.

The small-scale fisheries policy proposes that certain areas on the coast be prioritised and demarcated as small-scale fishing areas. In some areas access rights could be reserved exclusively for use by small-scale fishers (SSF policy A handbook for fishing communities in South Africa, 2013).

This could be because you would find in many cases that areas where SSF catch their fish are taken over by large vessels, recreational and holiday fishers. This results in SSF having to lose out on their catches for the day or competing with holiday makers for space- like in the case of Langebaan.

SSF need to be empowered, besides having preferential access to coastal areas and land, there should be infrastructure; infrastructure that will enable ssf communities to manage their fisheries well.

A community based legal entity or a cooperative is one critical infrastructure that will empower and improve the lives of small-scale fishing communities.

While for historical reasons the term ‘cooperatives’ can have a negative connotation, it is generally accepted that cooperatives could improve the resilience and stability of fishing communities(FAO, 2009).

The Food and Agriculture organisation paper titled Co-operatives in Small-scale Fisheries: enabling success through community empowerment says that “Cooperatives in the small-scale fisheries sector are a way of maximizing long-term community benefits to deal with the threats of fisheries mismanagement, livelihood insecurity and poverty.

Cooperatives can increase fishers’ price negotiating power with market intermediaries, help stabilize markets, improve postharvest practices and facilities, provide marketing logistics and information, and facilitate investment in shared structures such as ice plants and fish processing facilities.”

The promotion of equity is also a valuable exercise. It will make sure that all those involved (including, those in post harvesting and other activities such as bait preparation, cleaning, processing and marketing)  in small-scale fishing receive and access rights.

States should ensure that adequate policies and legislation are in place for achieving gender equity and equality.

States should be at the forefront of implementing actions for improving gender equity and equality by, inter alia, recruiting both men and women as extension staff, offering staff training in gender-sensitive fisheries technologies and issues, and ensuring that both men and women have access to extension and technical services related to fisheries (International Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries, 2012)

At the same time, differences between women and men should be acknowledged and specific measures taken to accelerate de facto equality, i.e. using preferential treatment where required to achieve equitable outcomes, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized groups (Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, 2013).

A victory for Traditional Fishers of Mumbai

By ICSF Samudra Report

Traditional fishermen of Mumbai have won a court case against oil, gas and industrial companies.

“In its ruling of 27 February 2015, the Tribunal labelled the case a “classic example of civil action brought by traditional fishermen” living in koliwadas (habitats of the Koli fishermen of Maharashtra), who were seeking compensation under Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, for loss of livelihood due to project activities of the Respondents, as well as implementation of rehabilitation of their families, who are unsettled on account of the projects in question” writes The Samundra Report.

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