By: Tebogo Mokwena
The Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment has implemented various programmes to combat illegal fishing, which has a devastating effect on fishing communities However, some members of the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment believe that the department should ensure that small-scale and indigenous fishers should be given access to fishing stocks in order to decrease illegal fishing. The department appeared before the committee to give an update on the country’s fishing resources and its various programmes to address the challenges in the fishing sector, including illegal fishing.
The department’s chief director of monitoring, compliance and surveillance, Dr. Kim Prochazka, said that fish species such as abalone, hake and anchovies recorded extremely high levels of illegal fishing in fishing communities. She also pointed out that fish resources would stand a chance to recover should illegal fishing be curbed. However, committee member Nazier Paulsen said that if communities and small-scale fisheries were allowed to fish and given opportunities instead of commercial fishing businesses, there would be no need for poaching.
He noted that there was a strong need for small-scale fisheries to have access to a greater share of the ocean’s fishing stocks. “Fishing for coastal people in their lives, and indigenous and small-scale fisheries are denied access,” Paulsen said. “Poachers are being criminalised for wanting to eke out a living.” The department’s chief director of fisheries operation support, Sue Middleton, responded that the department had in the past conducted week-long anti-poaching workshops which included small-scale fisheries as well as other stakeholders in the fishing industry.
She also said that it would release a strategy developed by the department and the industry’s stakeholders to deal with the issues that small-scale fisheries were facing. A report released last week by the Masifundise Development Trust in partnership with FIAN International pointed out that the human rights of small-scale fisheries were being violated in fishing communities surrounding Gariep Dam in the Free State, Jozini Dam in KwaZulu-Natal and Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape.
These included issues of access and control and the criminalisation of small-scale fisheries. The document titled “Turning the Tide Towards The Realisation of Small-Scale Fishing Rights: Monitoring the Implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Small-scale Fisheries in South Africa”, recommended that the state must ensure that small-scale fishers’ tenure rights and access to natural resources are respected and protected, and their fishing rights guaranteed. “This means that the government must ensure that fishers have secure access to land for residential, cultural, and occupational needs, including allowing fishers to pass through in order to access fishing sites,” reads the report. “Denial of access to natural water resources by small-scale fishers must come to an end, for the realisation of the human rights of small-scale fishers.”