D-Day looms for fishing licences

Hangberg fishermen, from left, Bernard Jarvis, Donavan du Preez and René Guenantin.

Hout Bay’s small-scale fishers are among thousands in the province who are expected to learn by the end of March if they will get fishing licences.

But the bureaucratic requirements of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), along with the high cost of fuel, are threatening the livelihoods of the traditional Hout Bay fishing community, say fishermen.

Skipper Anthony Martin has owned his small fishing vessel, Slingshot, for 20 years, but after paying for repairs, fuel, bait and staff there is little left on which to survive, he says.

Mr Martin was fixing the vessel’s engine after returning from sea with two crates of lobster. He said he had been a fisherman in Hout Bay all his life. Twenty years ago, his fishing quota had been 111kg, but it had been reduced every year and was now 50kg, he said.

The story of access to legal fishing by small-scale fishers goes back to 1998 when the Marine Living Resources Act only covered commercial and recreational fishing and not small-scale fishing, according to DFFE acting chief director of marine resource management Abongile Ngqongwa.

In 2007, the Equality Court ordered the then Department of Environmental Affairs to create a policy for small-scale fishers that would recognise them, provide access to fishing and address their needs.

Fishers were given interim-relief status, allowing them to continue fishing with annual permits while waiting for the small-scale fishing policy to take effect.

That process, said Mr Ngqongwa, rolled out from 2016 and went relatively smoothly elsewhere but not in the Western Cape, where many applicants were unhappy about restrictions on their catches.

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy sent the matter back to court for the province in February 2021, and, according to Mr Ngqongwa, the Western Cape High Court ruled, in August last year, that all Western Cape applications dating back to 2016 should be reviewed.

Since then, almost 4 000 applications have been submitted to the DFFE, and Mr Ngqongwa said the process to declare small-scale fishers should be completed by March, and they would get two days of training to outline their roles and responsibilities and give them basic skills so they could form co-operatives.

“Parallel to this, we will be assisting these co-operatives in applying for 15-year fishing rights, which will be allocated by October.”

Bernard Jarvis, 63, of Hangberg, who helps out on fishing vessels, said his application for a licence had been turned down, and he did not know why as fishing and the ocean ran through his veins.

He recalled as a youth catching fish around the Kommetjie lighthouse after being at sea for half an hour. Now they had to go much further out to sea for two hours before catching anything, he said.

He believes this is due to poaching and commercial ships catching anything and everything in their nets.

DFFE spokesman Albi Modise said some fish stocks were declining while others were not. “The current status of the fisheries stocks in the Western Cape is different and responding differently to environmental conditions, fishing pressures and various interventions that have been put into place to ensure their sustainability.”

In the Status of SA Marine Fishery Resources 2022 report, the number of fish stocks covered has increased steadily from 43 in 2012 to 61 in the current report. Stocks of species of concern were 39% (24) in 2022 down from 54% (23) in 2012. Stocks not of concern were 61% (37) in 2022 up from 46% (20) in 2012.

Jan Lewis, an observer of the DFFE’s small-scale fisher process and a City-appointed community-liaison officer in Hangberg, said most of the small-scale fishers had little to no education.

“They’ve struggled to navigate the complicated application process. Why should they have to reapply? Only the clever people will survive. The old timers will lose out because they can’t read and write.”

The constitution gave South Africans the right to make use of the country’s resources to make a living, he said, adding that commercial fishing companies should share their quotas, factories and fishing boats with those who relied on the sea to make a living.

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas said the City should be allowed to manage small-boat harbours so it could maintain and improve them to encourage job creation and investment.

Instead, Hout Bay Harbour was “being picked apart and scuttled like an eagle carcass by crabs”, he said.

Mr Modise said the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure was the custodian of proclaimed fishing harbours, responsible for the management of assets, equipment, and infrastructure in terms of the Government Immovable Asset Management Act of 2007.

Skipper Anthony Martin says that after paying for repairs, fuel, bait and staff, there is little left on which to survive.
Hangberg community liaison officer Jan Lewis says many small-scale fishers have little to no education and they’ve struggled to navigate the complicated application process. He believes commercial fishing companies should share their quotas, factories and fishing boats with those who rely on the sea to make a living