For an ocean of plenty: The EFF’s vision for SA’s fisheries and ocean economy

The ocean economy is key to economic growth. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

The ocean economy is key to economic growth. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 13, 2024


By Nazier Paulsen.

The vast expanse of South Africa’s coastline and ocean hold immense potential for our nation’s prosperity. However, this potential remains largely untapped, hindered by systemic issues that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is determined to address.

This article outlines the challenges facing our fisheries and oceanic economy, and proposes interventions aligned with the EFF’s policies to unlock a future of abundance and shared prosperity.

Firstly, overfishing, driven by corporate greed and inadequate regulation, has decimated fish stocks, threatening the livelihoods of coastal communities and the long-term health of marine ecosystems.

Secondly, the ownership and control of the fishing industry remain concentrated in the hands of a few, with limited participation from black South Africans and coastal communities.

Thirdly, decades of neglect have resulted in an underdeveloped infrastructure and a skills gap within the fisheries and oceanic sector.

Lastly, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change pose existential threats to the health of our oceans and the resources they provide. Prior to 2007, South African law did not recognise the existence of small-scale fishers. The legacy of centuries of systemic dispossession and marginalisation, rooted in colonial-era injustices, persisted through the discriminatory laws of the apartheid regime.

The Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) of 1998, which aimed to regulate the fishing sector in the post-apartheid era, failed to address the needs of small-scale fishers. While the MLRA acknowledged the presence of commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishers, it overlooked a significant segment of fishers who relied on selling small quantities of fish to sustain their livelihoods.

Fisheries management in South Africa operated under a system known as individual transferable quotas (ITQs). Initially, this system was intended to facilitate market access for historically disadvantaged individuals. However, the majority of fishing rights were allocated to the commercial sector, leaving few opportunities for artisanal fishers, and those who did receive quotas were often allocated minimal amounts.

In response to this inequity, around 5,000 fishers challenged the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) through a class-action lawsuit in 2005. The case highlighted the discriminatory nature of the legislation and its failure to address the needs of small-scale fishers.

Subsequently, in 2007, the Equality Court ruled in favour of the fishers. The court mandated that the fisheries minister develop a small- scale fisheries policy through a participatory approach, emphasising inclusivity and engagement with affected communities.

In 2019, an important amendment to the Marine Living Resources Act broadened its scope to include small-scale fishers, marking a significant shift in policy. Under the revised legislation, an individual could now be recognised as a small-scale fisher if they belonged to a small-scale fishing community engaged in fishing to meet food and basic livelihood needs, or if they were directly involved in fish processing or marketing.

This amendment represented a crucial step towards acknowledging and supporting the contributions of small-scale fishers, however, small-scale fishers are still struggling for recognition.

Recognising the ongoing injustices faced by small-scale fishers, artisanal fisherfolk, and coastal communities, the EFF’s manifesto acknowledges the urgent need for reform.

The EFF advocates for policies that empower these marginalised groups and enable them to participate meaningfully in the fisheries sector. By addressing historical inequalities and promoting equitable access to resources, the EFF aims to create a more inclusive and sustainable fishing industry that benefits all stakeholders.

The incoming EFF government pledges to engage with fishing communities in coastal towns across South Africa, including Hondeklipbaai in the Northern Cape, Saldanha, Hout Bay, and Hawston in the Western Cape, Ndlambe in the Eastern Cape, and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal. Through extensive consultations, the EFF aims to understand the unique challenges and opportunities faced by these communities, with the goal of revitalising their economies and improving livelihoods.

Furthermore, the incoming EFF government is committed to accelerating the development of black participants in the fishing industry, particularly in key areas such as the West Coast of the Western Cape, the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal (with a specific focus on the vicinity around Kosi Bay), Margate on the South Coast, Jeffreys Bay, and Bluewater Bay in the Eastern Cape.

By prioritising the empowerment and inclusion of black individuals within the sector, the EFF seeks to address historical inequalities and promote economic transformation. It is crucial to acknowledge the dire state of South African waters, which are experiencing severe overfishing, particularly impacting species like the west coast rock lobster, which are nearing depletion.

Climate change further exacerbates the strain on fish stocks, compounding existing challenges. The decline in catches of small pelagic fish, vital components of marine food webs and primarily reserved for the commercial sector, is alarming, plummeting from 600,000 metric tons in 1987 to less than 200,000 in 2019.

Moreover, fishers, both commercial and artisanal, face increasing competition for space within marine environments. This competition arises from various sectors, including the oil and gas industry, marine transport activities, and the establishment of marine protected areas.

As marine industries expand and marine ecosystems face mounting pressures, the livelihoods of fishers are further jeopardised, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive and sustainable management strategies.

As custodians of South Africa’s natural heritage, it is imperative that we adopt conservation measures that safeguard our oceans for future generations. This is why in our manifesto, the EFF advocates for the implementation of science-based management strategies, the establishment of marine protected areas, and the promotion of sustainable fishing practices that prioritise ecosystem health and resilience.

In addition to ecological concerns, the fisheries sector is rife with instances of corruption, illegal fishing activities, and labour exploitation. The EFF condemns these unethical practices in the strongest possible terms and calls for robust enforcement mechanisms to combat them effectively. We demand transparency and accountability in the allocation of fishing rights, strict enforcement of fisheries regulations, and the prosecution of those found guilty of illegal fishing, corruption, or human rights abuses.

The EFF government will have special task teams to crack down on crime in the ocean’s economy. Crimes that affect coastal and marine environments have serious consequences for ecosystem resilience and biodiversity loss, leading to a scarcity of natural resources. The EFF government will prioritise the regulation of deep-sea trawling to minimise the destruction of marine life by injudicious fishing companies and ensure the long-term sustainability of our marine resources.

Moreover, the EFF recognises the untapped potential of the blue economy as a driver of economic growth, job creation, and poverty alleviation. Through strategic investments in infrastructure development, aquaculture, maritime transport, and tourism, we can unlock the full economic potential of our coastal and marine resources.

However, it is essential that these initiatives prioritise local empowerment, job creation, and the equitable distribution of wealth, rather than perpetuating patterns of exploitation and inequality.

As custodians of South Africa’s future, we have a moral and ethical obligation to safeguard our marine resources and ensure their sustainable management for the benefit of all.

The EFF remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing policies that promote social justice, economic empowerment, and environmental sustainability in the fisheries and oceanic economy. Together, we can build a future where our oceans thrive, and all South Africans reap the rewards of their abundant riches.

* Paulsen is an EFF Member of Parliament.

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL