For many South Africans living in coastal provinces, the Easter long weekend goes hand in hand with family celebrations and beloved traditional fish dishes. But for many of the men and women who earn a living catching and selling fish, it’s far less festive.
According to Pedro Garcia, chairperson of the South African United Fishing Front, the past two years’ restrictions had a major impact on the fishing community, especially on small-scale fishers.
Spending power has not really recovered from the economic impact of Covid-19 and a few high-valued fish species lost their place in the consumer market.
“We are battling all the way. We are hopeful that we will be able to secure better prices for the normal fish like snoek and yellowtail. But even that it is going to be problematic,” Garcia tells Food For Mzansi.
He adds that the challenges in the industry are already complex and devastating to small-scale farmers, and Covid-19 just exacerbated matters by causing job losses and an overall struggle for sustainability.
‘Deeply disruptive’ fishing rights allocation
What is even more concerning to small-scale fishers, however, is the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment’s new Fishing Rights Allocation Process (Frap) which resulted in fewer small-scale fishers being granted permits.
This system is a move away from the long-standing manual applications that small-scale fishers were used to and will see successful applicants hold 15-year permits to fish for commercial purposes.
But small-scale fishers were up in arms when the department announced its new allocations in February. A total of 2 473 applications (by applicants ranging from companies to small-scale cooperatives) were received, and the most rights by far went to large companies.
Daily Maverick reports, for instance, that for hake as the most lucrative species, commercial fishing currently gets 98.5% of the quota and small-scale fishing gets 1.5%. Small-scale fishers say this will further threaten lives and livelihoods within their community, already battered by the damage caused by the pandemic.
“From our side as the small-scale fishery sector, it has been devastating,” says Garcia. “Much of the resources that has been taken up by the commercial sector should have formed part of the basket of species that could make economic sense for our fishers across the four coastal provinces.
“Unfortunately, that is not happening. [We’re] trying to find remedial action and solutions to the challenges that we are facing.”
Advocate Shaheen Moolla says the sector is in shambles following the implementation of the new Frap system. Moolla is the managing director of Feike, an organisation that specialises in providing legal, policy and institutional governance on fisheries.
“The major challenges facing [fishers] dealt with a deeply disruptive fishing rights allocation process, which left many historic right holders – both in the traditional line and commercial fishing sectors – without quotas,” he says.
Small-scale fishers now have their hopes on a final opportunity to appeal the Frap rights, which the department has announced at the end of March.
Fishers who wish to lodge an appeal must do so electronically by logging on to the FRAP2021 online applications website. They must use their own log-on credentials to access and download their grant of right letter and scoresheet. The closing date for submitting an appeal is 29 April this year and appeals received after the closing date will not be accepted by the department.
Support local fish markets
Moolla says there has not been a decent pre-Easter snoek run, so local communities have had to rely on yellowtail catches for the making of traditional fish dishes. He calls on South Africans to buy local catches from harbour markets.
“Our line fishers need your support, so buy locally harvested fresh fish like snoek and yellowtail from traditional fishing harbour markets like [those] at Kalk Bay and Hout Bay if you live in Cape Town.
“If you live in Durban, I recommend a historical local traditional line fisher who owns Zaffs Seafood Market. You are guaranteed sustainably and lawfully caught fish only.”
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