Cape Town -
Life as a fisherman comes with a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability. Most head out to sea in the early hours while the rest of the world is still sleeping. It can be tough and earnings are entirely based on the day’s catch.
But providing for his family is what keeps captain Naaim Jacobs, 37, going back to sea. A traditional line-fisherman from Lavender Hill, Jacobs has been fishing for 17 years but his livelihood is now under threat.
He was one of the 2 897 unsuccessful applicants who lost out on the new fishing rights allocations and is fishing with a post office permit as he waits for the outcome of his appeal.
Last week the Cape Argus joined him
on a six-hour fishing trip, with his crew of seven fishermen.
We met him at his modest home in Lavender Hill at 3.30am. Although he’d warned us to be on our guard for gangsters, we were taken aback when a group of men surrounded us wanting money. One told us that he had a gun. This is the environment Jacobs lives in, an environment of fear and intimidation. We were able to escape unscathed and later met Jacobs at Kalky’s at Kalk Bay Harbour where we boarded the fishing boat.
Apart from the fish not “biting”, since the start of the year Jacobs says being unsuccessful in his application for fishing rights was giving him sleepless nights.
He was hoping to take over the fishing rights from the previous rights holder on the Kalky’s boat.
He said that not knowing if he could continue in a trade that he had been part of for the last 17 years, since he lost his job as a machine operator in a pottery company, has caused him great anger and fear. He knows it will be his four young children and wife who will suffer the consequences.
“When I first found out about the rights, the first thing I thought about was my children’s education. How am I going to provide for them? My livelihood has been taken away and where will I find work now, I have been fishing for almost 20 years,” said Jacobs.
Being a fisherman is hard enough and now he feels the rights issue has just compounded matters for him and others. He said he would often go home with as little as R50 to R100 for a day’s work.
“Me and my family struggle on the little we earn sometimes, now they want to take that away as well. Today you catch a little; they give you a nice price. Tomorrow you catch a lot, they give you a price you are not expecting.
“My kids don’t understand any more that if they ask for money, I can’t give them any more.”
The Western Cape has a long history of fishing families, with the craft usually passed down from father to son. For him it is not only about providing but in keeping up the tradition of those before him, which is now under threat.
“Fishing for me is carrying on the legacy of people who worked the sea before us, whether it’s fathers, brothers, father-in-laws and even sisters.
“I hope they restore the rights to those who have been fishing. They shouldn’t ignore the new entrants, but first see to those who had the rights.
“They talk about transformation, but how can they not consider people who are in the industry, us coloureds, but consider those who are not part of it? When I saw some of the names for the new entrants it was disappointing. I thought fishing was for transformation but this was not what I was expecting.
“We just have to go from day to day to survive and hope for the best and hope that we get our rights back. I asked the boss to give me some sleeping pills, I haven’t been sleeping since the whole thing started,” said Jacobs.
There is a lot of playful banter on the boat Kalky’s 5, with the fishermen taking turns insulting each other, which is met with rowdy laughter.
A game of dominoes is enjoyed as Jacobs constantly moves the boat around the False Bay waters in search of elusive fish.
“I think the fish are also waiting for all this to be sorted out, and then they will start biting,” said Jacobs jokingly.
However, amid the laughter, fun and the sense of a brotherhood on the boat, the sense that the rights issue is sitting in the back of their minds is palpable.
During the trip some even shout out a few choice words directed at the government.
Fadil Savahl, 53, from Wynberg, is one of the fishermen on Jacobs’s boat. Unlike the others on the craft, he had a 25-year career in an industrial company before he decided to give it up and pursue his hobby of fishing full-time for the last four years.
He said the rights allocation will not affect him too much, but he knows the effect it will have on his “mates” on board who are dependent on Jacobs getting his rights.
“Some of these people depend on fishing their whole life. The way the rights were allocated was crazy, man. How will they feed their families by giving business people the rights?” said Savahl.
Nazeem Almazon, 34, who left school at the age of 12 to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and is part of Jacobs’s crew, said the rights allocation would have a damaging effect on fisherman who lost out and would lead to a life of poaching.
“They’re going to make us go steal out of the water and then we get called criminals. We fishermen need to stand together; if we don’t stand together we get nothing right.”
For Jacobs, fishing is a profession he has a lot of love for and he would not change it for anything else.
They should monitor the industry and check who really is involved in the industry.
“I think I would just break down and cry if my friends lost their work if I cannot get my rights.”
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued a closing date of February 21 for all appeals.
A number of unsuccessful applicants were granted exemptions to continue fishing until February 28 until the outcome of their appeals.
At the end of January a legal letter was served on the department demanding proper reasons for the decision, an extension to the time for submitting possible appeals, and to be allowed to continue fishing until after appeals are finalised.