Racist appropriation of fishing rights strangling traditional Cape fishing communities

The rights are often given to people inland in places like Soweto, with no experience of fishing, who then sell the lucrative rights to major conglomerates





Feb 5, 2024

Racist appropriation of fishing rights strangling traditional Cape fishing communities

Small-scale fishing communities in Cape Town are facing a crisis as fishing rights are granted to inland residents in Pretoria and Soweto, who lack experience in fishing. These individuals, often living hundreds of kilometers from the coast, then sell the rights to large commercial fisheries like I&J or to the small-scale fishers who were supposed to receive the quotas in the first place.

The recipients of these rights, with connections, get preferential treatment, leaving traditional fishers feeling marginalized. The flawed application process for fishing quotas has fueled discontent, with complaints about favoritism and a lack of consideration for historical ties to the industry.

Several fishers, including Ogdine Fernandez and Mogamat Williams, lament the dire situation, struggling to make ends meet and support their families. Fernandez, a descendant of Filipino fishers who arrived in the 1800s, highlights the disappointment in the broken promises of a fair review of fishing quotas.

Sedick Achmad, whose family lost fishing rights in 2005, expresses frustration with the system, stating that the government has failed them, forcing many to seek alternative employment in factories. Gary Kingma, a skipper and owner of a fishing boat, shares the plight of fishers like Fernandez, emphasizing the impracticality of their fishing permits, which only allow them to catch tuna. During poor seasons, they are left stranded.

The allocation of fishing rights is regulated by the Marine Living Resources Act, dividing the industry into categories such as large commercial fisheries, small-scale independent fishers, and small-scale commercial fishers. However, the cooperative system, managed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, has failed, with cooperatives often acting as front companies.

Shaheen Moolla, an advocate for small-scale fishers, criticizes the cooperative system, emphasizing that allocated quotas are too small to sustain families. He contrasts the current policy, implemented in 2021, with past policies that were more tailored to the unique circumstances of communities.

The recent round of fishing rights allocations in the Western Cape, completed after an extended legal battle, highlighted flaws in the process. Minister Barbara Creecy acknowledges the need to revise the Marine Living Resources Act but defends the decision to allocate fishing rights under the current system, considering it the best outcome given the time constraints.

Critics, including environmental journalist Don Pinnock, argue that the problems began when the ANC government in the 2000s decided to grant fishing rights to "citizens of the land," regardless of their fishing background. Pinnock highlights the complexity of the application process, akin to a lottery system that disadvantages small-scale fishers with fewer resources.

In summary, South African small-scale fishers are grappling with the consequences of an allocation system that favors inland residents over traditional fishing communities, exacerbating economic hardships and threatening the sustainability of the industry.

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