Third generation fisherman, Ishmael Fortune, is concerned over reduced quotas introduced by the Marine Living Resources Act, which he says is strangling small-scale fishers.
Third generation fisherman, Ishmael Fortune, is concerned over reduced quotas introduced by the Marine Living Resources Act, which he says is strangling small-scale fishers.

Premier helps improve fortunes of Cape’s small-scale fishers

By OWN Correspondent Time of article published Oct 25, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Ousted from their homes in District 6 during the apartheid era, many of South Africa’s fishing families were re-located to places like Saldanha, Gansbaai and Kalk Bay to continue their craft.

One such family were the Fortunes, now headed by Ishmael Fortune, a third generation fisherman who now lives the picturesque deep south village of Kalk Bay.

In summer they would sell their hake and snoek, and in winter, abalone or “perlemoen” was the staple diet – until that is, the government put a price tag on the fish that the fishers were harvesting from the ocean.

Up until 1994, quota systems regulated who got what, with expensive resources set as a condition on which allocation rights would be distributed.

On September 1, 1998, the Marine Living Resources Act came into operation.

Although having the right intentions, several contestable issues were highlighted, like a “balance between the rights of the individual rights-holder and those of the State.”

In the beginning, the Fortune family were allocated 10 tons Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of lobster, however, in 2021, this ‘allocation’ was slashed to 1564 kg (around 1.5 tons) and it is understood there are further cuts in the pipeline.

The question here, who is getting the difference?

Rights holders encompass commercial fishing organisations and small-scale fishers, who like the Fortune family, have fished for many generations.

Yet despite their undeniable legacy, small-scale fishers are not yet fully recognized as a formal sector.

This puts them at a distinct disadvantage when slogging it out with the big guys for, what potentially, are their inherent right to the fishing pie.

Fortune remembers how, through extreme hard work, his father bought his own fishing vessel, the “Tajmahal”.

Sixteen of the family members worked on the vessel deriving their income from the ocean.

“As I grew up, I saw what injustice was done to the fishing community by the government in that they 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.

“My grandfather used to catch fish at any time of the day, season or year, and now, we are told where to catch, what we can catch and when we can catch it,” said Fortune.

“During the first batch of quotas, subsistence fishermen were requested to have a working vessel.

“My family and the community pooled our resources together to be able to catch hake longline, because the government said we must have a vessel. Then, we were told that we no longer needed a vessel.

“The last application asked whether the applicant has land-based assets and fishing vessels too. We struggled, but I was successful in purchasing a factory in Saldanha Bay. After spending all our savings, today, the application form no longer asks for land-based assets.

“Our community has been dragged through the deep to meet all the requirements that government stipulated on the FRAP application forms, and all for nothing.

“The poor are becoming poorer as, quite frankly, they are making it very difficult for us to get into the system.”

The Minister of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, is currently seeking a review of the rights allocation process.

This has been welcomed by the fishing communities, who have long felt discriminated against.

It has a long way to go though, and it is doubtful any resolution will be reached before the Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) is wrapped up later this year.

“Fishing communities are in crisis” commented Fortune.

“This has been made worse by the pandemic and continued illegal poaching, to the point where lobster and abalone resources are on the brink of collapse.”

Also adding extra pressure to the smaller fishing communities, is the fact that with international markets being restricted in 2020 and 2021, there is now an over-supply of lobster products in the local market.

Prices of lobster and abalone have been greatly affected too, as trade with China came to a halt because of the country’s restrictions during Covid, coupled with low local demand which has driven prices down.

Aside from this, many of these small-scale fisheries also lack the means to process, cold store and market their catch.

Left with no other alternative, they partnered with commercial organisations.

Fortune explains the initiative they started 26 years ago: “We decided to form a conglomerate and work with the big commercial fishing companies, most of who, gave us the raw end of the deal. That was, until I met up with Premier Fishing.”

Managing the West Coast Rock Lobster division at Premier Fishing, Shaun Solomon said: “Premfresh, a division of Premier Fishing and Brands, has worked with Ishmael since 1995 and since 2003, the company has played an instrumental role in assisting other smaller rights holders establish their own businesses in respect of managing their Rights.

“In the past 5-years, Premier has increased its engagement with small-scale Rights Holders who fall within the West Coast Rock Lobster (WCRL) sector, providing them with marketing services, operational support services, sales, and financial advice and training. Premier also provides a ’voorskot’ so that they can play a more pronounced role in the mainstream economy.”

WCRL works with fishers based in Saldanha, Kalk Bay, Gansbaai, Hermanus and Kleinmond and the small-scale fishers who approached Premier for assistance more than 20 years ago, are still with the company.

Fortune said that what differentiates Premier from other similar medium-sized businesses, is that they listen to what fishers need .

“The company is committed to the sustainability of small-scale fishers, and in assisting us Rights Holders to operate in a viable manner, with more of us able to sustain our livelihoods, thereby reducing negative social impact on our families and communities.

“Premier understands that we are under strain and do not have the wherewithal to meet the demands put on us by government and they accommodate us accordingly.”

Although there is much bargaining power in the collective approach Fortune and others like him have when they work with companies like Premier, it does not solve the continuing decline in allocations on which they all have to rely for income in the first place.

Particularly as Quota shrinkage also directly affects companies like Premier too.

Fortune shared that last week Saturday, Creecy was to meet with the community of Kalk Bay.

He said everyone was eager to hear what she had to say, considering her move to review the entire application process.

However, a few minutes before she was due, Creecy’s spokesperson announced she was no longer available.

The community were understandably devastated and feel that they are being left to drown.

FRAP is a highly charged and contested times for the industry but something has to give to ensure equal opportunity for all….right?

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