Subsistence fishermen say they are unable to earn a living.
Subsistence fishermen say they are unable to earn a living.

Anglers caught in their own net

By Chanelle Lutchman Time of article published May 28, 2020

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DURBAN - BARBARA Creecy, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries, has appealed to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to allow fishing under level 3 of the lockdown. 

Since its start in March, fishermen, including subsistence fishermen, have been unable to fish.

The POST recently interviewed subsistence fishermen who sell their catch door-to-door. 

They said that without permits to fish they could be arrested, and without money they could not feed their families.

The subsistence fishermen, therefore, relied on food hampers that were distributed to the community during the lockdown.

Riaz Khan, chairperson of the KZN Subsistence Fishing Forum, said Desmond D’sa, an environmentalist, wrote to the minister’s office and the Presidency to ask for its 12 000 members to be allowed to fish during the lockdown. 

The Presidency responded that the letter would be forwarded to the relevant people.

Last week, Tony Govender, a DA ward councillor, created a Chats Fisher Folk group on WhatsApp. 

It has more than 150 members, some of whom have spoken about the challenges they faced. This included being unable to pay their utility bills.

Hannah Winkler, DA spokesperson on environmental affairs, forestry and fisheries, who interacted with the fishermen, said she wrote to Creecy to plead with her to amend the Covid-19 fishing regulations. She said many fishermen in KZN contacted her regarding permits.

“These guys are desperate to fish as it will bring in some income for them and their families,” said Winkler. 

She said the Marine Living Resources Act made provision for subsistence fishermen, with small-scale fishing permits, to eat and sell their catch.

“But when the small-scale permits were issued, not everyone received a permit. As a result, subsistence fishermen had to opt for recreational fishing permits. This was either because they did not apply for the small-scale permit or they did not meet the department’s criteria.

“The recreational fishing permit meant they could eat their catch but they could not sell the fish and, as a result, many subsistence fishermen resorted to the illegal sale of their catch to survive.” 

She said that in her letter to the minister she requested transparency on the issuing of permits. 

However, Creecy told the POST that in 2014, the term subsistence fishermen was no longer used by the department. 

“In 2014, the Marine Living Resources Act, which governs fishing in the sea, was amended. The small-scale fishing sector had to be formalised in line with the requirements of the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy. From the act, three categories of fishing were identified, commercial fishing, small-scale fishing and recreational fishing. Those fishermen who once qualified as subsistence fishermen now fell under the small-scale fishing category.”

She said the department requested subsistence fishermen register to be recognised as small-scale fishermen and last year, they held community consultation programmes to determine if those who applied for the small-scale licence were indeed small-scale fishermen. 

“The only way to know if a person is a small-scale fisherman or a subsistence fisherman is if you go to their community,” said Creecy. 

In March, more than 2 100 fishermen in KwaZulu-Natal were registered as small-scale fishermen and received their permits. 

Creecy said those who did not qualify as small-scale fishermen did not get permits and as a result bought recreational licences. 

When the national lockdown came into effect, only small-scale fishermen and commercial fishermen were allowed to fish. 

She said the subsistence fishermen were aware of the application process to formalise the small-scale fishing sector but chose not to participate in the process. 

“The alleged 12 000 fishermen who are represented by the KZN Subsistence Fishing Forum are recreational fishermen and anglers. Based on the definition of recreational fishing in the act, they are not allowed to sell their catch.” 

She said it was an offence and a breach of the Marine Living Resources Act for anyone caught selling fish with a recreational fishing permit. 

Asked why limited permits were issued, Creecy said that in line with the policy in the act the department needed to ensure that fishing remained sustainable in the future. 

“As part of the act, we had to issue licences to protect the fish stock.”

Creecy said although the small-scale permits were valid for 15 years, every two years the application would reopen to include others.

She said that while the department would not hand out additional small-scale permits, they were aware of the challenges the fishermen faced after she addressed the NCCC. 

“I approached them and made a request that fishing be allowed under level 3 of the lockdown, ensuring that fishermen abide by the rules and keep a safe distance. I am waiting for the outcome from the NCCC.” 

Khan said they were not involved in meetings with the department and last week he found out the term subsistence fishermen was not recognised.

“They did not consult us when they made the changes,” said Khan. 

“We did not know, because for years our forefathers have been subsistence fishing with their recreational permits.

“It has always been recreational permits. There were only 2 000 small-scale permits given but there are 12 000 fishermen without a permit. 

“There’s a gap in-between that’s missing and we seem to have fallen through the cracks.”


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