Inland small-scale fishers from the communities of Norvalspont, Gariep, Venterstad and Oviston in the Eastern Cape say they are tired of fighting for access to historical fishing grounds.
Marginalised and impoverished fishers from these communities report that they are denied access to their traditional fishing grounds within the nature reserve of Oviston and recently led a march to the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) offices to hand over a memorandum of demands.
According to the Masifundise Development Trust, fishers are also asked to pay an entrance fee of R25 in order to enter the reserve, which is located on the southern shores of the Gariep Dam. They say this amount is unrealistic for small-scale fishers who try to earn an income but do not catch enough fish to sell and make their money back.
“I don’t work, I am struggling, I don’t have money to take my children to school,” says Nomfundo Saul, a fisherwoman from Norvalspont. “But I am fighting for my right to access fishing grounds so that I can catch fish and have some money to send my children to school and to put food on the table.”
Legal permits don’t exist
Food For Mzansi previously reported that freshwater fishing activities in South Africa are currently regulated by the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment, and that existing regulations only provide for recreational fishing. This, while freshwater subsistence fishers, who continue generational fishing traditions to put food on the table, are fighting for the rights to make a legal living from it.
Isaac Louw, a small-scale fisher also from Norvalspont, says that fishing is his livelihood and he wants fishing rights. “There is unemployment [and] pensioners don’t work and are struggling. During the Covid-19 pandemic many people lost their jobs and still sit without one.”
“We don’t want to fight; we just want access to our fishing grounds. [Management] is making things very difficult for us fishers by refusing access to the reserve. Historically, we have always fished here. So did our forefathers. But now we can’t do anything.”
Reserve manager Luyanda Gcaza later met with representatives of the inland fishing communities and acknowledged fishers’ grievances.
Gcaza agreed to set up community structures that allow ECPTA to work together with the communities on issues regarding access to the reserve, on both a local and provincial level.
Not just in Oviston
Similar problems stretch far beyond the Eastern Cape. Inland fishing communities of Mazambane, Mtubatuba and Jozini in KwaZulu- Natal fight the same battle.
In Mazambane and Mtubatuba fishers express their frustration with the restrictive own-consumption permits that prohibit the sale of fish. Ultimately, this impedes on their ability to sustain a livelihood and income.
Fishers say that their cooperatives suffer as they cannot make any profit from their restricted fishing activities. Apart from asking for adequate permits, they also request that local municipalities assist them in creating local markets where they will be able to sell their harvest.
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