South Africa’s fishing industry is set on the path towards sustainability and showing signs of growth. While some celebrate the growth in new entrants, others are cautiously optimistic.
The small-scale fishing industry has drastically increased over the past few months, says Moenieba Isaacs, Professor with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of Western Cape. However, Isaacs questions whether it is positive growth.
“I do not think the growth of small-scale fishing should be seen as a growth where jobs can be created, the fishers are reliant on this for their livelihoods.
“It is important to remember that there can only be so much that can be taken [fish] out of the water, so the current workforce is sufficient. The sector is not big; to say it will boom and create jobs. These people are doing this for their sustainability,” she said.
There’s growth but…
Maia Nangle, the senior project coordinator from Masifundise, says the fishing industry is regaining its momentum and she expects positive growth but at what cost?
Small-scale fishers across the Western Cape are undergoing a process of verification for recognition as bona fide small-scale fishers under the small-scale fishers’ policy.
“The Western Cape has been seeing an increase in applications and environmental authorisation for coastal mining and oil and gas activities. [This] will have an impact both on the ability of small-scale fishers to access their fishing grounds, and on the health of the marine ecosystems and their fish stocks,” she said.
Nongle acknowledges that the department has put a lot of effort into ensuring that the policy is finalised, however, says there are still challenges with the implementation of the policy.
“Much of this has to do with the communication that reaches rural communities with limited connectivity, as well as the inability of many fishers to travel to other communities to meet with officials of the Department of Forestry and Fisheries.
“Small-scale fishers do not have the means to pay for transport to other areas in order to collect appeals forms or to submit forms,” she explains.
Bad and good days
Carmelita Mostert, a fisherwoman and Coastal Link leader from Saldanha Bay tells Food For Mzansi that out on the sea, they experience many bad days and sometimes go home empty-handed.
“One challenge is that every day is a sea day, but not every day is a fish day. This means that sometimes you lose some money after spending money on diesel and bait. On other days you can make more profit from the fish that you are able to catch. You never know what the day will be like, it is not consistent,” she explains.
Although it is tough, during the Easter holidays sales usually pick up, especially in the Western Cape. She shares that in the last two weeks, she has made a good profit due to an increase in demand.
“Small-scale fishers can sell more fish around Easter time. Many more people are looking into buying fish, and they prioritise fish in this season because they have the money to do so.
“So, fishers can charge more for their fish due to the high demand. We do expect to have a higher profit margin during Easter which is really a much-needed boost.”
The danger of neglecting small-scale fishers
Nangle says it is important that small-scale fishers are included in decision-making processes, otherwise, they run the risk of being entirely wiped out.
“Small-scale fishers play an important role in ensuring local food and nutrition security as well as boosting the local economy even if it is largely the informal economy.
“If South Africa continues to [prioritise] developing our marine, mining and oil and gas sectors, as well as our industrial fishing fleets, [and neglect supporting and developing small-scale fisheries], then these communities will continue to suffer,” Nangle cautions.
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