Hout Bay harbour was blockaded on Wednesday by angry fishermen and their families after two fishermen were feared drowned while fishing illegally.
A number of those at the gathering said informal fishermen were forced to resort to “poaching” at night because they didn’t have fishing rights.
“(On Tuesday) night, four people went out to sea and only two came back,” said fisherman Angelo Joseph. “How many must we lose before the government gives us our own fishing rights?”
Garth Adonis and Jason Johnston fell overboard between 5am and 6am on Wednesday while out fishing off-shore of the Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie.
They are believed to have drowned. NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said the search for the two men would resume on Thursday morning.
Anthony Theunissen said the protest was aimed at closing the harbour’s economic activity by keeping out trucks that were there to load fish for big businesses.
Some buyers had been allowed in so as not to cripple the earnings of fishermen who had catches to sell.
The crowd dispersed at 1pm after a meeting was scheduled for later in the day with officials of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Community representative Greg Louw, who said he was a cousin of Adonis, said the gathering hadn’t been planned but that there was a need to raise informal fishermen’s concerns. “People have had enough where they need to gamble with their lives at sea under constraints, which come down to them not having access to the sea.”
Theunissen said people in their community had been fishing for generations and knew of no other way of life. “We’re not poachers or criminals. That’s how they classify us, but we’re informal fishermen. Those people who went fishing... did it to put food on their families’ tables.”
Theunissen said informal fishermen in Hout Bay wanted their own businesses, permits and a stake in fish farming.
According to Louw, there were opportunities for informal fishermen to obtain fishing rights; however, they needed support structures to assist them to fill in forms and get over red tape.
“People go out at night to steal, to catch fish to put bread on their tables,” said Carol Opperman, who lost her job at a fish factory last year because she fell ill. “We have to because we don’t have other work.”
Opperman, who told the Cape Times her husband and son had died at sea, said big fishing companies “get cake while we get nothing”.
The department’s fisheries branch spokeswoman Carol Moses expressed the department’s regret over the loss of life. She said the harbour access incident had been “instigated as a result of frustration expressed by the affected fishers regarding access to and ownership of facilities and resources” at the harbour.
While the department did not condone illegal fishing, it acknowledged that most of these fishermen fell in the small-scale sector and that they might in future be beneficiaries of the small-scale fisheries policy.
Amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act, which would provide the legal framework for the policy’s implementation, were currently before Parliament.
Louw said the meeting with the department had gone well because they’d had a chance to raise the community’s grievances over fishing.
The two men who went out fishing with Adonis and Johnston, whose bodies have not yet been found, have been left “shocked”.
Rushda Warner, the wife of skipper Nadeem Warner, said that from what her husband had told her, it had been misty Wednesday morning, the current had been strong and one of the boat’s engines cut out.
“He put off the other engine to find out what was wrong with the one. Then, two waves hit,” she said. “The first one took them. My husband shouted ‘Hou vas ouens’ (hold tight, guys) but it was too late.”
Warner told of having been “threatened” following the incident because some people blamed her husband.
“It was an accident. People are blaming him but knowing him, he would rather let someone else live if he could.”
The other survivor and youngest among them, Stanton Swartz, 23, was reluctant to talk about what had happened on board but said he’d held on as tight as possible when he heard the skipper shout. “I’m in shock. I got such a big fright... I will never again get on a boat. I’ll rather find another job.”