By: Anna Majavu
Fishing co-operatives from historical fishing communities in the Western Cape have, for the first time, finally been awarded 15-year rights to catch the fish they have survived on and sold—some for centuries. Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy announced this week that 3850 fishers from Western Cape fishing communities, who are organised into 62 small-scale fishing co-operatives, would have their co-operatives registered as legal entities, bringing an end to their illegal status.
Before 2014, rights were only granted to recreational, commercial, and subsistence fishers, leaving fishing co-operatives who wanted to sell the fish they caught out in the cold. Small-scale fishers were only recognised by law in 2019. Creecy said that a department survey had also revealed that fishing co-ops were plagued by “a lack of access to markets, a lack of sustainable and suitable infrastructure, and difficulties in accessing broader fishing value chains”.
Some of the newly licensed co-operatives will be involved in processing and marketing the fish. The department will also appoint 62 mentors by the end of January to identify business opportunities for the co-operatives. The mentors will be unemployed young graduates who hail from fishing communities. “Training is effective up to a certain point, but mentorship and holding hands for the next three years is going to be a very important aspect of ensuring that the co-operatives are sustainable and after three years, they are able to operate on their own,” said Abongile Ngqongwa, the department’s Director of Small-Scale Fisheries.
However, it is not yet clear which fish or shellfish the co-operatives will be allowed to catch. “The department is still in the process of developing a sustainable and financially viable basket of species for the small-scale sector,” Creecy said. Some of the species that have been granted to date include line fish species, West Coast rock lobster, seaweed, bait species, abalone aquaculture ranching sites, net fish, white mussels, line fish, and oysters.
Creecy rejected complaints previously made by the community-based organisation Doringbaai Fisher Folk Women that rampant offshore mining, prospecting, and exploration for diamonds and other minerals on the Western Cape’s West Coast seabed had caused fish to flee the bay. This had left the fishers with no choice but to leave the bay and fish in the deep sea, which their small boats were not able to do safely. Creecy is the appeal authority dealing with appeals from fishing communities against the allocation of mining rights. She said there was no proof that offshore mining and prospecting interfered permanently with fish.
“The scientific evidence that has been put before me is that, yes, when there is immediate noise, the fish might swim away, but they also return, so there isn’t a lasting impact on the fishing species,” she claimed. A few fishers objected to not being allowed to ask questions of the minister at the press conference. “I’m a small-scale fisher and the chairperson of a co-operative, but I’m not allowed to ask a question when issues regarding my livelihood are being made public,” said fisher Christian Adams.