Desperate small scale fishers get lifeline
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CAPE TOWN - In some hopeful relief for small-scale fishers, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) has made an about turn in its West Coast Rock Lobster Total Allowable Catch (TAC) regulations, with the department finally acknowledging the threat its decisions may have on livelihoods.
The department had recently reduced the West Coast Rock Lobster TAC from 160kg to 35kg as part of the interim relief dispensation for the 2021/2022 season.
The Cape Times reported last Friday how the decision left fishers from coastal towns across the province up in arms, as this meant that they could only yield R6 000 a year – below the poverty line amount of R500 a month.
At the time of the announcement of the reduction, the department said officials indicated that the decision was “based on an updated stock assessment for the WCRL resource which indicated a further deterioration in the stock levels”.
But following widespread concern from both the small-scale and commercial sectors, fisheries minister Barbara Creecy said on Monday she will request the newly appointed Consultative Advisory Forum (the CAF) to review the 2021/2022 TAC process and allocation.
CAF, a newly constituted panel of both local and international fisheries and conservation scientists, industry representation through FishSA, and community representatives, will review the appropriateness of the cuts within the various fishery sectors, and the data on the poaching estimates used in the TAC model, among other things.
“I am acutely aware that a large number of people rely on the WCRL resource for their livelihoods, and that the current proposed cut in quotas will have a devastating effect on already stretched incomes following the devastating effect of the Covid pandemic and the impact it had on export markets for Rock Lobster,” Creecy said.
She also noted that many Interim Relief fishers expressed the need for a more sustainable basket of species to be allocated to fishing communities, and a final gazette which has taken into account the public comment process will be published in the coming two weeks.
Leader of the mass-based community organisation Coastal Links, Naomi Cloete, said she hoped the announcement was not another “election campaign”.
“They just make empty promises and when the elections are finished nobody will reply to us, we know them. But we will see, we will see if there is going to be a difference in the TAC,” she said.
Other fishing communities who welcomed the review to the TAC raised concerns about the proposed timeline of the review and what fishers will have to do in the meantime.
The department said while the CAF is reviewing the 2021 TAC, commercial right holders and small-scale and Interim Relief fishers will be allowed to continue fishing on the 2021 TAC figures.
This is to ensure that fishers are not completely deprived of access to resource and incomes.
Director of the Masifundise Development Trust, Naseegh Jaffer, said they welcomed the acknowledgement of what the WCLR quota is causing on fishers.
“We understand that the resource is under stress and there are biodiversity concerns. Based on these, Minister Creecy should consider allocating the entire TAC to small-scale and near shore commercial fishers, rather than to big companies, as it seems that WCRL is not commercially viable for large-scale fisheries.
“We also have concerns on how representation of small-scale fishers will be ensured in the CAF. More importantly, a Transformation Council is needed, to address the challenges existing and transformation of the fisheries sector in the country in a coherent and holistic manner,” Jaffer said.
Ishmael Fortune, a third generation fisherman who now lives in the picturesque deep south village of Kalk Bay, this week said that his family was previously allocated 10 tons TAC of lobster.
However this year the “allocation” was slashed to 1 564kg.
He said as he grew up he saw how the government “made it very difficult for the fisher folk to meet the requirements for applying for quotas and most of our fishermen were not granted quotas to fish”.