Lockdown lessons from South Africa’s fisheries: Building resilience in small-scale fishing communities

The WWF South Africa Marine Team has been working with the Fish forward 2 Project and the latest study looked at the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on South African fisheries with a focus on small-scale fisheries.

Individuals in the supply chain as well as small scale fishers in coastal communities across 4 coastal provinces were interviewed about socio-economic conditions before the pandemic, during the first hard lockdown, when lockdown restrictions were relaxed and finally when restrictions were reimplemented during the second wave.

The study found that the industrial fishing sector which had greater access to finances, networks and other resources was better able to absorb the stressors and shocks of last year’s lockdowns. But sadly, the same cannot be said about the small-scale fisheries sector. Small-scale fishers had difficulty adapting to the sudden changes and limitations in operations brought about by the various phases of the lockdown. These impacts were also not equal: small-scale fisheries in some coastal provinces faced more devastating impacts than others.

Fortunately, formally recognised fishers were seen as providing an essential service and awarded permits to fish during lockdown. But still, there were instances where they were prevented from fishing. Fishers who were not formally recognised could only operate using a recreational permit, yet recreational fishing was prohibited during the “hard” lockdown. As a result, many fishers suffered a shortage of seafood protein and food.

The Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown amplified pre-existing vulnerabilities of small-scale fishers. Many are still excluded from formal supply chains and the inequities and inequalities of the past have not been fully addressed. Fishers still need to be adequately empowered and capacitated!

But not all is doom and gloom as light at the end of the tunnel is emerging through functional co-operatives helping fishers navigate these sudden shocks by building resilience in small-scale fishing communities.

Download the 2021 report here

Written by Monica Stassen, Marine Scientist at WWF South Africa