Plight of fisherwomen

Michelle Yon.

Hangberg women whose entire lives have been spent in the fishing industry say they have been “marginalised” to an even greater extent than men as wrangles over fishing quotas and rights continue.

The 42 women, most of whom are single parents, feel they are the “forgotten” people of Hout Bay, and that their role in making Hout Bay one of the Western Cape’s most recognisable fishing communities has been overlooked.

Last month, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) announced that while fishers’ total allowable catch (TAC) would not be cut, their total allowable effort (TAE), or the amount of effort used to catch fish, would be drastically reduced. This would limit the fishing season to an effective three months (“Fishing rights cut back,” Sentinel, November 16).

This, however, only applied to the existing 97 Hout Bay fishers who have been granted interim relief status. Interim relief status was bestowed on small-scale fishers in 2007. It allows small-scale fishers short-term permits of between four and eight months, and it was intended to be a temporary solution for fishers who did not benefit from long-term rights established by the government.

While an estimated 20 women do have interim relief status, the 42 women, represented by Hangberg resident Michelle Yon, are complaining that these women do not have the requisite background in the industry while they are “born, bred and fed” within the local fishing community.

“DAFF is not allowing any new women entrants into the interim relief policy. We have been on a waiting list for years, but the caretaker of the interim relief policy doesn’t seem to be working from the waiting list. But we know there are 10 open spaces for interim relief, but nothing is happening,” Ms Yon said.

“You have situations where there are two people in the same household who have permits to catch West Coast Rock Lobster, but how can that be when there are still people on the waiting list? Those who do have permits are connected, but the department doesn’t care. Meanwhile the rest of us women sit with nothing.”

Resident Cheryl Raatz began packing fish for her grandfather as a child, and she carried this skill over while working for a number of fishing companies as an adult. However, as factories closed in Hout Bay, she had fewer opportunities to earn a living in the industry.

“You can give me any kind of fish to work with, and I’ll show you what I can do. From cleaning to packing, it’s in my blood. But now the only work I can get is to clean fish for fishers in the community, at R5 a fish,” she said.

“I have been on the waiting list for six and a half years. I have been to meetings with the department and the local fishing community, but nothing has happened. We are mostly single mothers, but no one cares about us having to put food on the table.”

Ms Yon’s husband drowned at sea in 2005, leaving her to raise their children alone. Shortly after her father died in the 1970s, she began “trekking” the fishing lines, forging a life-time career in the local industry.

“For me, it’s not the real fishers who are neglecting us as women, because they know what we’ve done in the industry. It’s the opportunists who have come along. They think because we did flecking or dumping or fish, the role many women played, we are not real fishers. But we are part of this industry,” Ms Yon said.

“It is the quota holders who aren’t the real fishers. All they do is sign off on the fish when it comes in. They haven’t even been out to sea.”

Ms Yon said she had even addressed Parliament on issues of transformation in the fishing industry eight years ago, and had repeatedly liaised with DAFF on how to get greater representation for Hangberg’s women in the industry.

“Our women have also applied for near-shore fishing rights, but nothing has ever come of this. DAFF doesn’t want to listen to us. It seems like the department is in the pockets of the marketers and interim relief caretakers.

“We have to do all sorts of jobs just to put food on the table, but it’s never enough when you have families to support.”

She said she was in the process of mobilising the 42 women to march for their rights early next year. “We’ve had enough,” she said.

However the interim relief caretaker for Hout Bay, Ikram “Lamie” Halim, said he did not have the authority to grant nor take away permits from people.

“It is true when the permits first came out, they were mostly for men.

“Women who had previously worked in the fish factories were excluded in the government’s policy. It was really for people in the industry who got their head wet, as they say. More for the private fishers,” he said.

“There were only 2 000 permits for people around the whole Western Cape coast. In Hout Bay, only 97 were given, of which 20 went to women. I have been fighting with DAFF myself to get permits for all Hout Bay’s fishers. There are about 400 or 500 in Hangberg, and that includes women.”

He said three interim permit holders had died over the years, and DAFF had agreed to have these transferred to the deceased’s next-of-kin.

He was aware that there were calls for him to be replaced as interim relief caretaker, but DAFF would not even consider this at this stage of the year.

“We don’t need to be fighting each other on this because actually we have a common enemy in DAFF. It is the government that made these policies that excluded our fishers.”

However, DAFF spokesperson ,Merle van Diemel, said no fishing rights were allocated to the interim relief fishing and “never will be”.

“The interim relief sector is in the process of being terminated and will be terminated when small-scale fishing rights are allocated,” she said.

She added DAFF’s policies emphasised general transformation in the fishing sector.

“In particular, the small-scale fisheries policy places emphasis on the need to recognise traditional fishers according to an agreed upon set criteria, but in addition also to recognise and promote the inclusion of women, youth and people living with disability.”

In terms of how interim relief caretakers were selected, she said each community involved in interim relief dispensation was requested to elect a caretaker through a democratic process.

“Before this is done, DAFF sends all the necessary templates, such as ‘letter of authorisation’ forms and letter of authorisation annexure, for interim relief fishers to sign, indicating their approval for the elected caretaker.

“Thereafter, DAFF requests fishers to have meetings in their respective interim relief communities where elections of caretakers are due to take place. DAFF confirms the elected caretaker once documents such as attendance register, minutes of the meeting, and record of decision and authorisation documents are submitted. The same process is followed when communities want to change their caretakers.”