Western Cape small-scale fishers have welcomed a decision by the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment to review their total allowable catch (TAC) for West Coast rock lobster for the 2021/2022 fishing season.
This, after fishers rejected the cut to the TAC allocation to 35kg – coming down drastically from 160kg over the years. They deem it unsustainable and unsuitable for supporting the lives and livelihoods of fishing communities.
Fishers who come from coastal communities such as Langebaan, Saldanha Bay, Paternoster, St Helena Bay, Arniston, Lamberts Bay, Velddrif and Buffelsjagbaai vowed mass action if government did not act swiftly to correct this.
According to the fishers, the allocation only allows for an amount of R6 000 per annum or R500 per month, explaining that the “unfair” allocation further threatens the lives and livelihoods of fishers already battered by the damage caused by 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Following the widespread concern, minister Barbara Creecy requested the Consultative Advisory Forum (CAF) to review the season’s TAC process and allocation.
CAF is a newly constituted panel of both local and international fisheries and conservation scientists, industry representatives through FishSA, and community representatives.
Creecy said, “I am requesting them to advise on whether the current cut is appropriate in terms of our approach to sustainable use of the resource.”
‘Industry no longer sustainable’
Fishers tell Food For Mzansi that they are reluctant to bank on Creecy’s promise to rectify the matter.
Fisher Carmelita Mostert from Saldanha Bay has been in the industry for over 20 years and says when she entered the industry, fishing lobster was a sustainable activity. This is no longer the case.
“What’s making us unhappy is that the minister knew that there would be a cut. She should have had a discussion with the fishers who represent us, but she’s never done that.”
In a media release, Creecy assured angered fishers that she requested CAF to review the appropriateness of the proportional cuts within the various sectors of fishery, as well as consider presentations and representations from stakeholders on the methodology used to determine the TAC.
“I have asked CAF to [also] review data on the poaching estimates used in the TAC model… Furthermore, I also want to be advised on an appropriate way in which fishing communities can assist the department to co-manage the stock,” Creecy said.
Reduced over a number of years
Reacting to this, Mostert says while she appreciates Creecy’s intentions to rectify the matter, she wishes the minister could talk to small-scale fishing communities face-to-face and not through the media.
“She did admit that she made a mistake, but we want her to come to the fishers and fishing communities and talk with us face-to-face and not through the media.
“I wish she could come to us and get on our small boats – not the big commercial boats – so that she can see how we battle to make a living in order to provide for our families,” Mostert tells Food For Mzansi.
She feels that government has failed and disrespected small-scale fishers through false promises, and that they “have stolen the oceans”.
“In the past five years, there has been no improvement for small-scale fishers. We are worse off than before.
“The small-scale fisheries policy that gives rights to the sector has been adopted more than five years ago, but still not implemented. Government treats us like step-children and has shown little respect or regard for the coastal communities as we battle to put food on the table,” explains Mostert.
The rock lobster allocation has been reduced from 160kg to 35kg over several years. Compared to the previous year, the 2021/2022 fishing season, the drop represents a 28.3% reduction.
Mostert says they have no guarantee that Creecy will keep her promises.
“When the voting season is over, then these issues are no longer important. It always happens,” she says.
Plans to rebuild stock
At the time of the announcement, officials indicated the decision was based on an updated stock assessment West Coast rock lobster, which indicated a further deterioration in the stock levels.
Small-scale fishers say they understand that stocks are under pressure but believe they should be prioritised over the commercial sector. This, as they depend on the resources for lives and livelihoods.
“The cuts should be made in the Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP), which is used for the commercial sector,” says Naomi Cloete.
“Instead, the government marginalises the small-scale sector while it’s business as usual for the commercial sector. To make matters worse, the government gives support to extractive industries that damage the oceans and make life more difficult for us,” Cloete states.
Creecy has noted that because the lobster resource is severely depleted, steps must be taken to rebuild the stock so that fishery is managed sustainably.
Key to this, the minister said, will be to increase compliance-related efforts to combat poaching and over-fishing.
“Consideration must be given to how we ensure we strengthen the ability of communities to work with the department to co-manage this important resource,” Creecy said.
Meanwhile, the minister said she is aware that many people rely on the rock lobster resource for their livelihoods.
Furthermore, “That the current proposed cut in quotas will have a devastating effect on already stretched incomes following the devastating effect of the Covid pandemic and the impact it had on export markets for rock lobster.”
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