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Durban fishermen lose livelihoods due to sewer, chemical spills

Fishermen at the weekend. Picture: Supplied

Fishermen at the weekend. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 18, 2021

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Durban: The beach closures, chemical spills into the sea, and more recently, the sewerage overflow from the Mahatma Gandhi Pump Station to the Durban Harbour are affecting the livelihoods of subsistence fishermen.

This is in addition to the Covid-19 lockdown and the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal in July.

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The Department of Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea) opened beaches on November 2 for recreational activities after a specialist report confirmed there was no danger.

However, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment said all fishing and harvesting of marine resources between the uMgeni River mouth to Salt Rock and a kilometre out to sea remain prohibited.

On Saturday, the KZN Subsistence Fishermen Forum held a meeting at the Rydalvale Grounds in Unit 9, Phoenix, to address their concerns. Subsistence fishermen catch fish to sell in order to earn an income.

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Suren Beepraj, the North Coast representative on the forum, said fishermen were being victimised by the government.

"When the hard lockdown was in place last year, fishermen had to stay at home because the beaches were closed. Their families struggled financially. Some applied for the R350 Covid-19 social relief of distress grant to help them, but it was not enough. When the lockdown eased, we fought to fish again and were allowed."

Beepraj said things began to stabilise, but then the unrest happened, and the fishermen had to stay at home again.

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"Shortly after the unrest, the beaches from the north of the uMngeni River up to the Tongaat River remained closed due to the UPL (United Phosphorus Limited) chemical spill into the sea following a fire at the warehouse in Cornubia during the unrest."

He said now, in addition, the Durban Harbour was closed due to the sewerage overflow.

"It has become a no-win situation for us. Everywhere we turn, there is a problem. Many fishermen have not been able to provide for their families because of these issues. We have more than 12 000 fishermen who are a part of our forum. Bathing and other recreational activities are being allowed, and we are being overlooked."

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Beepraj said, even prior to these issues, fishermen were being sidelined.

"As a forum, we approached Transnet to give us 12 000 permits for our fishermen to fish in the vicinity of the Durban harbour. They agreed, and we formed a code of conduct that stipulated that fishermen were not allowed to consume alcohol, drugs and fight when fishing in the area. They also had to ensure the area was kept clean. About three years ago, Transnet put a hold on the permits. They said fishermen were making the area a dumping ground for paper and plastics."

He said this was not the case.

"Dirt was coming into the harbour due to the bad weather and other issues. As a forum, we did clean-up programmes to ensure we stuck to our end of the bargain because this was our livelihoods at stake. We want our permits to be released. We want to be allowed to fish from the North Pier to Grunters Gulley and Wilson's Wharf. We have lost too much already."

Bob Abrahams, a fisherman, from Northcroft in Phoenix, said: "The closure of popular fishing spots like the Bay of Plenty for subsistence fishing is blatant discrimination against the fishing folk. The public is allowed on the piers, dogs, people with their surfboards and skates, but only us, the fisherfolk who are paying to fish, are being denied access."

Abraham, 67, has been fishing for 35 years.

"It is so unjust and so discriminatory against us. We need to feed our children because we have no source of income. Now how do we sustain our children when all the facilities are being closed off to us?"

Eugene Govender, 45, from Unit 9 in Phoenix, has been fishing for 45 years.

"This is my bread and butter. Since the hard lockdown, I have been relying on the support of my family. I have two minor children, and my wife is also unemployed. The R350 grant is not enough to support us.

"We have to think about paying our utility bills and buying food. It is difficult to get a job. Fishing is my trade. When I was able to work, I made an average of R4 000 a month. This helped sustain my family. The government needs to look at things from our perspective to resolve these issues."

Rico Euripidou, the environmental health campaigner for groundWork, said more than half a million chemicals from the UPL warehouse spilt into the Ohlanga River and the Ohlanga Lagoon.

The eThekwini Municipality and Transnet Port Authority did not comment by the time of publication.

Bob Abraham

The Post

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