Small-scale fishers in Hout Bay continue to feel marginalised by government, saying they are “pulling the short end of the stick” in terms of the allocation of fishing rights.
Frustrations are now boiling over to the point that fishers in Hangberg will go to any lengths to put food on the table, even venturing out to dangerous seas at night, according to Ikram “Lamie” Halim, of the Hout Bay Fishers Community Trust which represents three fishing cooperatives comprising hundreds of fishermen in the town.
While the government has made efforts to reform fishing quotas since the end of apartheid, the fishermen say this process is corrupt and still favours large commercial fishing concerns.
“There are four sectors that the government has been dealing with: offshore, near shore, small scale, which is currently known as the interim sector, and the recreational sector,” Mr Halim said.
“We currently fall into the interim sector, but currently we are stuck between the Small Scale Fishers Policy and Interim Relief policy because the government is not rolling out the final policy for final fishermen.
“The problem is that there seem to be political issues at play, in that the big fishing companies still have more say. What they are saying is that we should work fewer months, but how are we supposed to make a living that way? Under the interim agreement, each fisherman can only take out 20 West Coast rock lobster a week, but there is no way that is able to sustain our livelihoods.”
He said it was highly evident that the process still favoured commercial fishing companies.
“There are 35 coastal fishing communities in the Western Cape. Two thousand fishermen are to be allocated 235 tons of a 1 900 tons of total allowable catch. The rest goes to big companies in the commercial sector. What that means is that each small scale fisherman can only take 108kg from the ocean, when one company, which is owned by a few, can take out 185 tons annually.
“It is very hard for a person to hear that they can only take out a certain amount of fish, but then they look over their shoulder and they see a big vessel taking out all this fish. It is a gross imbalance, and it’s not fair.”
Mr Halim said one of the problems was that with the end of apartheid, the new government did not implement a new fishing policy for South Africa.
“Instead, they went with the old policy and only amended certain things here and there. The Hout Bay fishing industry was booming in the 1960s, but now we are pulling the short end of the stick.”
He said the local fishing community was “fed up” with the process.
“The fishermen are angry, and want to know why they need rights to fish. This is why you are seeing people taking more rock lobster that what is prescribed. They have no other choice. The government calls it poaching, but we call it a living.
“What we are now finding is that fishermen don’t care about rules and regulations anymore. They are frustrated. Something else that has annoyed them is that they’re seeing some commercial companies fishing in the near-shore. Each trap weighs 150kg, and these traps are disturbing the ecosystem so rock lobster can’t develop properly. This is also causing a problem for us as we don’t catch the fish as we used to anymore.”
Fishing rights advocacy group the Masifundise Development Trust agrees that small scale fishermen have been given a “raw deal”.
“For the past few months,even years, we have been advocating for the government to announce what they will allocate for small-scale fishers under the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy, but until today this has not happened,” said spokesperson Nosipho Singiswa.
“Furthermore, it is disturbing that the department is freely continuing to allocate rights under FRAP (Fishing Rights Allocation Process), a system that does not currently recognise the small-scale fishing sector while small-scale fishers are given rights under the Interim Relief System.”
She said it was not only small scale fishermen in Hout Bay that felt marginalised but fishermen in this sector across the country.
“Just look at fishers in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal who still cannot sell their catches because their permits do not allow them to.
“Until the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) announce the species that will be part of the small scale fishing rights and actually allocate rights under the policy small scale fishers will still be and feel marginalised.”
Queries sent to DAFF spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo and DAFF director of small scale fisheries Craig Smith were not responded to at the time of going to press this week.