The Hook speaks to Solene Smith, chairperson of the Langebaan branch of Coastal Links South Africa.

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.

Solene Smith, is one of the founding members of Coastal Links. Since 2002, she has been actively involved in the struggle of small-scale fishers. In this question and answer feature, she recalls the events leading up to and following the class action case.

The Hook: When the government decided to give long term rights to commercial fishers and excluded small-scale fishers, what came to your mind, how did you feel?

Solene Smith: We felt like we had to wait for 10 to 15 years for us to get our rights. We were angry and at first did not know what to do, but something had to be done. 10 to 15 years was a very long time to wait and have no income to put food on the table.

The Hook: You said you could not wait, what actions did you take?

Solene Smith: Our anger and frustration led us to come together as small-scale fishers. I remember coming together as a community. We self-organised and wanted to speak directly to politicians. I remember the day we marched to town, I wanted to be in-front and I took the microphone and screamed: “Give us our rights”. We had to be heard, and the world needed to know that our rights and livelihoods as small-scale fishers are important.

The Hook: What are your most memorable moments related to this event?

Solene Smith: I remember how united and passionate the fishers were when we marched to parliament. The politicians saw how strong our forces, our voices, our strength and our determination were. When we marched to parliament, we filled the streets and that point I knew that the government could not ignore us; and we were going to make sure that they ignore us.

The Hook: It is now a decade later. What is your message to the fishers?

Solene Smith: Fishers have to make sure that they take and use every opportunity they get to raise their voices. We need to make sure that we are informed and know what is happening. Tell the government that we exist, if they refuse to listen let us give them a hard time. We have to make sure that those put in place to serve the people do just that, we have to make sure that no decisions about small-scale fishers are made without small-scale fishers.

The Hook: Any comments on Policy implementation?

Solene Smith: It has been a long wait, 10 years. We hoped not to wait so long, but actually endured the interim relief system. I am not certain, in fact I know that we can’t wait any longer. If this process is delayed, we as fishers will rise again and make sure that our government put the people’s needs in front. We will not accept any excuses or delays. It is now time that fishers go to sea freely and we taste the fruit of what we fought for a decade ago.

 The fisheries policy and Marine Protected Areas

For the past seven weeks, The Hook has been publishing articles focusing on key Small-Scale Fisheries objectives. This week, we will focus on the last objective of the policy. Let us take a look at the policy objective that aims to: Ensure participation of small-scale fishing communities in Planning and implementation of MPAs by the state agencies such SANParks and Ezemvelo.

“… States should involve small-scale fishing communities – with special attention to equitable participation of women, vulnerable and marginalised groups – in the design, planning and, as appropriate, implementation of management measures, including protected areas, affecting their livelihood options….”( Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries, 2013).

Small-scale fishers have constantly complained about their exclusion in the planning and implementing of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Implementing agencies have been accused of disregarding fisher customary rights and knowledge by making decisions that threaten the livelihoods of many fishing communities.

Fisheries management in South Africa adopted an ecosystem management approach to fisheries, and declared 20% of the coast as MPAs. Formal provisions in the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998 (MLRA) created more opportunities for the elite to access fishing rights than opportunities for the poor. So bona fide fishers were left out of formal allocation processes and as traditional fishers were unable to access formal fishing rights, many resorted to poaching in MPAs (PLAAS, 2010).

Well known cases of these include the Langebaan and the Dwesa-Cwebe MPAs. The fishing communities affected by these MPA’s are met with difficulties of accessing marine, land and other natural resources.

In an MPA forum held early this year, fishers from the four coastal provinces of South Africa expressed their thoughts on MPA management.

They said that “many fishers experience little benefit from MPAs and they face exclusion by management and abuse from rangers. However, as they shared their concerns, they also explained that while they do not discredit the benefits of MPAs there needs to be a different relationship between conservation agencies and MPAs.

Indigenous knowledge, community participation and fishers rights must be strongly factored into the planning processes and management of MPA’s “(Masifundise 2015).

When the SSF policy alludes to the participation of SSF communities in the planning and management of MPAs, it aims to ensure that this community is not left out from decisions that directly impacts on its livelihoods.

It means that when the state is planning to declare an area a MPA, communities must be consulted from the onset and no decision must be taken without the proper consultation of the community that will be affected.

Furthermore, because fisher communities possess indigenous knowledge of the area and its marine resources, this knowledge must be factored into every decision taken by the state.

New policy can bring unity to Lamberts Bay fishers

By Tsele Nthane, Serge Raemaekers and Nico Waldeck

Lamberts Bay fishers have been small-scale fishers for generations. Their fathers, to whom fishing was also a way of life, taught most of them. Fishing is of such immense cultural importance that it is ingrained in the identity of the Lamberts Bay fishers. They also endure the terrible consequences of apartheid, which denied them educational and livelihood opportunities.

As teenagers, many of the Lamberts Bay fishers had few other options but to work as crew for the white-owned fishing industry, while the women commonly worked in the lobster processing factory. Apartheid denied the fishers access to further education and stripped them of the right to make a livelihood.

Despite this dispossession, Lamberts Bay fishers have not lost their cultural attachment to fishing, which remains an integral part of their identity. Nevertheless, the post-apartheid individual quota allocation processes, despite intentions of redress, have had detrimental effects on the unity of the Lamberts Bay fishers.

“…see it divides the people, the quota system of that time, even divided the communities. Now they are like a bourgeoisie, and the other fishers are like the local fishers, and the latter have no money and so on. This discriminates against the bona fide fishers. But the bourgeoisie forgets that he was on the same level as that guy, but now he got a right [WCRLRH], he is like a Boer now, like a boss” said one Ronaldo*.

The flawed commercial quota allocations, and more recent attempts to redress this through yearly permits, while a new policy was being developed, most obviously divided the fishers into three groups:

  • those with a West Coast Rock Lobster inshore commercial fishing right, issued in 2003, and then again for 10 years in 2005;
  • those who managed to obtain an Interim Relief Permit (IRP), renewed annually since 2007;
  • and then those with no legal use rights. The IRPs were issued to fishers because of the contested legality of the quota allocations, which invariably left many fishers without a livelihood.

Those who obtained commercial rights were able to invest, obtain better boats, and many managed to improve their relative socio-economic situation. Although few in numbers they are considered the elite in the community. The quota allocations thus led to grossly unjust income and food security differences between those with quotas and those without. In addition to the quotas’ polarising effect, many fishers were denied the right to fish outright. Thus, the quota allocations turned bona fide fishers into poachers and, thereby, criminals, virtually overnight.

For obvious reasons, a fisher needs a boat; and more boats mean more fish, which also mean more money. So when one group of fishers all own boats, and another group owns far fewer, the group with more boats dominates the other: socially and economically. In Lamberts Bay, the Quota holders all own boats, while most of the IRP fishers who don’t own boats, work as crew on boats of Quota holders.

“ …and suddenly a situation have unfolded…, if you could say, the one is becoming the boss, other one is becoming the worker, and the worker was now, in terms of the livelihood, depending on what we call, the site [job as boat assistant/crewman], on a boat of a rights holder [WCRLRH]. So that was very magnificent, it actually has disturbed the peace and the harmony in the community” commented Daniel*.

Women fishers involved in the post-harvest sector bear the brunt of the allocation process’s shortcomings. Male fishers, who were not successful in receiving rights, now join the post-harvest sector, squeezing out the women from a sector in which they traditionally dominated. The long-term legacy of this social engineering project, just like apartheid, is difficult to undo.

IRP fishers eke out a difficult existence because their marine harvest is limited to catching line-fish, with a small helping of lobster. Many households, primarily those with IRP, are food insecure because of the meagre income they receive from fishing and their dependency on loans. This externally imposed income inequality bred tension and division in the Lamberts Bay fishing community.

The life histories that once united all the fishers have slowly become eroded by the unintended effects of the allocation process. The lobster export companies have also exacerbated the community divisions between the IRP and the Quota holders by peddling loans using influential fishers, as ‘marketers’ or middlemen.

Combined with the vulnerability of the Lamberts Bay fishers, the loans have locked the fishers in a tragic cycle of economic dependence and serfdom with each passing season.

The new Small-Scale Fisher Policy (SSFP) primarily aims to rectify the dispossession of the fishers and unite them under a common policy that recognises their livelihood rights. To achieve this, the policy needed to extract the golden thread, the common identity, so diluted by the introduction of the Quotas.

“That is the kind of difference between those two rights holders, the commercial [WCRLRHs] one is not certain about his livelihood after 2015, while Interim man [IRP fisher] says that now this is his time to eat” emphasised George*.

At base, generations of tradition, history and culture centred on livelihood fishing, unites the fishers of Lamberts Bay. However, the other side of the coin is that the fishers also face similar livelihood challenges, an uncertain resource base and being price-takers in the value chain. This is irrespective of their fishing right or permit. It is these challenges the new SSFP seeks to address, and under this common cause, the fishers of Lamberts Bay may find unity and common purpose.

Capacity building and empowerment are the immediate needs facing all Lamberts Bay fishers. Many Lamberts Bay fishers communicated their desire to obtain financial management skills, because this will allow them to optimise the opportunities presented by the new policy’s implementation.  These opportunities include the potential to develop a local Lamberts Bay fisher label marketed locally or exported internationally, partnerships with the retail sector to supply them with Lamberts Bay fish, and most importantly, successfully navigating the co-operative structures so central to the new SSFP.

Despite the divisive effect of the fisheries system, the fishers of Lamberts Bay remain friends, family, and neighbours. The new SSFP offers the hope of uniting the fishers under a timeless aspect, which is their identity as traditional fishers.

*The names of the fishers interviewed have been changed due to the sensitivity of the issues highlighted in this article.

Job Creation and Securing Sustainable livelihoods for the Small-Scale Fisher community

The creation of jobs in the small-scale fisheries sector means that fishers and fishing communities need to be part of the entire supply chain of the sector.

“Small Scale fisheries may provide substantial job creation and livelihood opportunities if these fishers and communities are involved in and are part of the entire supply chain and related activities” Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector of South Africa, 2012)

It is not enough to have just fishers going to sea. The sector needs women and youth to take part in pre and post-harvest activities of the fishery.

It might also mean that communities will have to identify job opportunities that come as a result of fishing activities.  To add to this, communities will have to be trained and skilled to make them employable.

So, how can the state and organisations like Masifundise help with job creation within the sector?

“When asked about their future aspirations many fishers claimed they wished for access to better permit conditions that allowed them a catch greater than the current limit of 10 per day. Harvesters who once had abalone permits before the ban was implemented claim that being able to harvest legally again would provide them with a reliable income and allow them to work under safe conditions,” writes Michelle Stern of the South Africa Institute of International Affairs.

“Additionally, they wish to sell at fair prices, just below the market value in order to be competitive, with the option to sell in external markets. This, they believe, would provide them with an avenue out of poverty. Additionally, storage facilities to keep fish fresh overnight would allow them to receive better prices for their stock, as they would not be forced to sell on the day-of-catch.

A fish shop could provide fishers the opportunity to sell at a price that is below the market price in a nearby shop, but still at a competitive price that would enable them to receive a reliable income. An enterprise that enables fishers to pool their resources would enable them to share the benefits in the fish trade.”

Other job creation activities that small-scale fisheries can embark on are the education, training and development of communities. With the government’s plan to open up co-operative, communities will have to be trained in management of the co-ops. They will need business skills including, computer and financial management skills.

Other skills including boat repair, first aid and marketing skills could be useful.

A number of departments will have to be involved including the Department of High Education, DTI and Skills Education and Training Authorities. Funding will have to be made available and SSF community members will have to be dedicated. Communities will also have to identify what skills and job related to small-scale fisheries are needed inorder to create a successful SSF community/fishery.

Fishing waste processing to contribute to production diversification

By Analia Murius of Fish Information and Services

The Technical University Federico Santa Maria has begun to implement a project aimed at developing an autonomous module that allows transforming artisanal fisheries seafood waste into a useful product.

Work will be performed in Caleta Portales, with financial assistance amounting to CLP 164 million (USD 274,500) from GORE Valparaiso, commissioned by the Under secretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture (SUBPESCA).

Read More…

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