A high court judge this week ruled in favour of the small-scale fishers of Langebaan in their long battle for access to Zone B of the lagoon.
The Langebaan fishing community lodged their case in the High Court in August 2013, and on June 7 this year, after numerous false starts, their case finally came before a judge. Before the legal action was pursued, the fishers tried to resolve the matter through discussions and negotiations, but this failed to yield any outcome.
Net fishers, through their organisation, Coastal Links South Africa then lodged a court case against the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Environmental Affairs, South African National Parks and the West Coast National Park in defence of their livelihoods.
The fishers were represented by the Legal Resources Centre.
Through the case, the Langebaan fishers sought to have their rights to sustainable livelihoods restored, which was taken away from them when they were prohibited from fishing in Zone B in the Langebaan Lagoon, which is also a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
“This has been a long fight for us,” commented Norton Dowries, “This victory is proof that if we keep on persevering and fight for our rights, we will eventually win,” he said.
The traditional net-fishers have been restricted to only catch fish in Zone A, while a few white fishers, due to an agreement they signed with the Parks Board during the last years of apartheid, were allowed to fish in Zone B.
This was done at the expense of the small-scale net fishing community of Langebaan, who have to compete with all the holiday makers when they have to go out and catch fish in Zone A.
Fishers who have been traditionally catching fish in the lagoon felt frustrated and disheartened as this made it difficult for them to have a sustainable livelihood. They believed that their customary rights were being trampled upon.
“We are happy that this court case has finally come to an end and fishers, after a very long fight, will get access to the lagoon,” commented Solene Smith, chairperson of the local Coastal Links branch.
“Furthermore, we would like thank the Legal Resources Centre for standing by our side through thick and thin,” said Smith in a happy voice.
The legal process has not been exhausted yet. The Minister still has the right to appeal and so the fishers will only know in a few weeks’ time if their battle is finally over or not.