Dams overflow, but fishers unable to make a living

The overflow of the Gariep and Vanderkloof dams are impeding local fishers’ ability to provide for their families.

The overflow of the Gariep and Vanderkloof dams are impeding local fishers’ ability to provide for their families.

Published Jul 31, 2023


By Keamogetswe Thomas

Local fishers face various difficulties that go beyond the effects of climate change, jeopardising their ability to make a living and access food as Vanderkloof Dam, nestled in the heart of the Northern Cape experiences overflow due to too much rainfall.

“This year, the Vanderkloof and Gariep dams experienced an unusual overflow from April to mid-June due to heavy rainfall in nearby regions,” said Jordan Volmink, Communication Officer at Masifundise Development Trust.

“While it may seem beneficial at first glance, this actually creates difficulties for the fisherwomen in accessing the kraals and practising line fishing. As a result, their ability to secure food for their families and generate income is significantly hindered,” he said.

Volmink’s observation reveals the intricate relationship between climate change and the challenges faced by fishers at Vanderkloof Dam.

While heavy rainfall leading to dam overflow may not be directly attributed to climate change, but according to Qurban Rouhani Head of the Rural Fisheries Program at Rhodes University who spoke to Rural Action for Climate Resilience - it aligns with the broader pattern of climate variability and its impact on weather patterns.

“The unpredictability of weather events, including both floods and droughts, poses a significant challenge to the fishers’ ability to sustain their livelihoods. In previous years and in other areas, droughts have caused the lowering of dam levels and the drying up of rivers, directly affecting the fishers’ ability to harvest,” said Rouhani, adding that these prolonged dry spells disrupt the natural ecosystem, deplete fish populations, and further exacerbate the already challenging circumstances faced by the fisherwomen.

For decades, Vanderkloof Dam was a thriving fishing ground, sustaining generations of fishers and providing vital income and nourishment for the community. But in recent years, the once plentiful fish populations have seen a notable decline.

“The fish population has seemed to decrease,” said Sana Riet, a local fisherwoman whose family has fished these waters for generations. “We don’t get as much fish, so we need to wait for the fish species to grow again.”

However, the challenges faced by Vanderkloof Dam fishers go beyond the effects of climate change alone. Recreational fishing has emerged as an additional obstacle, exacerbating their struggles.

“They make it very difficult for us to catch fish.”

“When we go fish at our access points, sometimes we are told to leave those spots, and then we can’t fish for the day,” Riet said.

The increasing popularity of recreational fishing activities has led to heightened competition for limited fishing spots, pushing aside the traditional fishers who have relied on these areas for generations.

While both recreational fishers and traditional fishers share a passion for fishing, the clash between the two groups has created tensions and further strained the resources of Vanderkloof Dam.

The implications of restricted access to fishing spots have a direct impact on the livelihoods of local fishers, who depend on consistent catches to sustain their families and communities.

* This story was produced through the Youth Citizen Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of the Rural Action for Climate Resilience project, which is co-funded by the EU and the Heinrich Boll Foundation