Cape Town - Traditional line fishermen across the Western Cape have reacted to the denial of their fishing rights with threats of lawlessness and acts of despair.
Marius van Wyk, a fisherman in Kalk Bay, said one of his colleagues had had to be sedated and put to bed because of the shock of the news.
Wally Croombe, chairman of the SA Commercial Linefish Association (Sacla), said there had been two attempted suicides, one in Cape Town and one on the West Coast, so far.
He said: “I have had to act as a counsellor, an adviser and a psychologist. I have cried along with grown men.”
The unhappiness stems from the outcomes of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) fishing rights allocation process.
Fishing rights that were extended in 2005 expired on New Year’s Eve. As a result, fishermen had to re-apply for rights last year. Of 303 linefish permit holders last year, only 115 were successful in re-applying for rights. Adding to the consternation of established fishermen who were denied rights is the fact that 100 new entrants were granted rights.
Sacla held a meeting for line fishermen, who were denied rights, in Yzerfontein on the West Coast on Thursday. Another such meeting is scheduled for Cape Town’s line fishers in Granger Bay on Friday.
Tensions ran high at on Thursday’s meeting, with some of the fishermen suggesting that they attack and burn down government buildings.
One fisherman from Kalk Bay who spoke to the Cape Argus on Wednesday also threatened to take the law into his own hands.
“I have fished my entire life and have always done so within the confines of the law. But if the government deprives me of my livelihood for no good reason, I will be forced to go underground. I will poach and sell on the black market,” he said, asking that his name not be published.
Croombe has called for solidarity in the industry, asking fishermen who received rights not to go out on fishing expeditions while their contemporaries are denied the right to join them. Leading by example, Croombe, who was granted line fishing rights, has docked his own vessel.
“Our job is firstly to calm people down and to get solidarity in the industry – so that people don’t feel alone. We advised fishermen to act in a unified manner and not to do anything rash. I don’t think the government quite understands the damage that they have done through this rights allocation process,” said Croombe.
However, fisheries deputy director-general Desmond Stevens has defended the allocation process, saying that it was fair. He invited unsuccessful applicants to appeal the rights denial if they felt the DAFF made a mistake. There are, however, only about nine rights allocations still available for successful appeals.
Desmond Ball, 59, who started as a crewman on a Kalk Bay fishing boat as a teen and now owns a linefish boat, has already employed a lawyer and started preparing his appeal – which is due before the end of the month.
Meanwhile, both Croombe and Pieter van Dalen, the DA’s spokesman for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, have warned of the negative knock-on impact that the rights denial will have on jobs and food security in the Western Cape.
Each right holder generally employs between eight to 10 people on a fishing vessel – many of whom now stand to lose their jobs.
Hawkers, who act as middlemen between fishers and consumers, will also have smaller catches to work with – meaning less money. “Yes, that is a serious concern. I have 10 dependents and it has been a tough few years for hawkers as it is,” said Rafiek Isaacs, a hawker at Kalk Bay harbour.
Less fish coming in to the harbours also means greater demand and higher prices, warned Van Dalen.
“This will be very bad news for thousands of people on the Cape Flats who rely on affordable snoek as a source of protein.”