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Line fishermen along the Cape coast are in a fight for survival, fearing extinction if drastic steps are not taken to improve their lives.
Fishermen from the villages of Struisbaai and Arniston say for as long as they are denied multiple quotas allowing them to harvest other species, rather than being limited to line fishing, they will soon cease to exist.
“Making a living as a line fisherman has become near impossible. Laws aimed at improving the living conditions of fishermen in most cases have had just the opposite effect,” one Arniston fisherman claims.
Poverty is evident in the lives of fishers in the region.
Some have their own boats, others have been paying off their old-style “chukkies” for more than 40 years.
Both beaches are popular among holidaymakers but hidden behind the pretty postcard towns are two fishing communities crippled by poverty, social ills and unemployment.
Even those fortunate to be awarded line-fishing quotas are struggling as competition from outsiders with sophisticated speedboats heats up.
“By the time we get to our boats, people from outside our communities have already left to find the fish. By the time our slow chukkies reach the bank where the fish are, there’s no room for us,” Struisbaai fisher Sias Marthinus says.
He is one of the fortunate fishers who has owned his own boat for several decades, but has struggled like many others to survive.
“I’ve had my own boat for 30 years but I needed President Jacob Zuma’s help to build a house that would allow my two wheelchair-bound children better access to our home.
“My wish is that all fishers can work in their own areas. Now government tells us that we can have permits for crayfish and abalone.
“I would like them to do a survey to check how many tons of abalone have been harvested in this region by poachers. Go to the police station and check how many confiscations were made. So why can’t we have permits?”
Marthinus says as a skipper his job is to feed his crew and their families.
“Arniston and Struisbaai are fishing villages but we are only allowed line-fishing permits.”
And he questions why West Coast fishers have crayfish, line fishing and abalone quotas. “We have to wait months for our season to kick in and when it does we have to compete with others who’ve already benefited from the crayfish and abalone season.”
He wants the government to prohibit outsiders. “We all want a better life, but we can’t get that because the travelling fishers are killing us, grabbing the food off our table and they don’t care because they have the latest technology while we have to make do with our old chukkies.”
Kat Grandfield says 20 years back fishermen were able to fish anywhere.
“I grew up in Skipskop and I started fishing at 13. Now the area of my birth is a protected area. The fishing resources are in that area but our fishermen can’t access it.
“Fishing is not the same, and neither are the resources. Now you have a mountain of forms to fill in, mostly in English, and we are all Afrikaans-speaking.”
Grandfield says in 2007 he entered into a rental contract with a boat owner and in 2012 it finally became his boat. “But as luck would have it, in 2013 I failed to get a quota for line-fishing rights. I’ve just paid up the boat and now I have no permit.”
He says “most fishermen have bare cupboards”.
“They depend on line fishing, we can’t fish anything else, not crayfish or abalone but outsiders from the West Coast and Cape Town come here to fish.
“In our villages there are no big factories that can employ our wives and children so if you come home empty-handed there’s nothing to eat,” Grandfield says.
If a crewman earns R20 000 a year, it is seen as a good year.
“Most people are day earners; if the winter months come people can earn about R5 a day. If the fish don’t bite there’s no money because the boat owner must get half, the owner must pay for the bait and at the end of the day there’s nothing left. “We work for ourselves, and we sell the fish to buyers. They pay what they want to but most of the time you are lucky if you get about R10 a kilogram.”
Fisherman Stuart du Plessis says there have been significant improvements over the past two decades, but believes more has to be done to improve the living conditions of line fishers in the region.
Another fisherman says: “Sad as it is, to be a fisherman here is to know a life of poverty.”