The challenges facing the small-scale fishers

The year has been a long and difficult one for small-scale fishers. 2015 was mostly characterised by uncertainty with regards the small-scale fisheries policy. Not only did the fishermen grapple with the derailed implementation of the policy, they were also confronted by a sad reality of the interim relief permit system for West Coast Rock Lobster being prolonged for the tenth time. This interim permit system was introduced back in 2004 as a temporary arrangement of allocating fishing rights to marginalised communities. Numerous complaints from the community-based fishers’ organisations and by individual fishers have not helped to avert these frustrations.

Compounding these problems is the fact that the availability of the catches for important linefish species such as snoek has increasingly become unpredictable, which also raises serious livelihood concerns. For example, fishers along the Kogelberg coast often do not catch their linefish quota because they regard going to sea for linefish as a ‘wasteful process’ due to the high cost of fuel in return for a small catch.

The reality is that implementing an ambitious policy, such as the small-scale fisheries policy, is a very complex task and fishers’ expectations will never be met in a single day. This is why – since the middle of 2015 – WWF South Africa has been working closely with the Kleinmond fishers to implement an action plan of improvement projects. The aim of these projects is to help this community prepare for the policy implementation and to improve their resilience in the face of livelihood challenges.

Of the seven projects co-planned with the community, three are already being implemented in collaboration with the newly formed women’s co-operative.

In July 2015, with the help of the Overstrand Local Economic Development office, WWF-SA supported the establishment of the women’s co-operative which consists of nine fisher women and a few fishermen who are linked to the women. This co-operative is a registered entity with the company and intellectual property office of the Department of Trade and Industry.

“Women are the pillars of fishing communities and their hard work behind the scenes is hardly ever recognised or acknowledged. Through the women’s co-operative, we hope it will bring the community together so as to increase their own bargaining power in the fish market,” said Mkhululi Silandela, WWF-SA small-scale fisheries officer.

A key role of the co-operative is to co-ordinate the new restaurant value chain project by purchasing the catches from the fisherman and selling directly to the selected restaurants at an agreed price. This value chain project has two major objectives: to provide tangible market benefits for the Kogelberg fishers and to improve the co-management of the Kogelberg’s small-scale fisheries.

The first project is around providing training to fishers which is aimed at improving the fishers’ ability to participate in co-management when the policy is fully implemented. Towards preparation for co-management, there is a focus on establishing a community structure that must be represented in a multi-stakeholder platform with government stakeholders so as to participate in decision making and account for the activities of its members. A working relationship has already been developed between the fishermen and the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve marine working group and this structure is likely to become the Kogelberg coast co-management structure when the small-scale fisheries policy is fully implemented.

Launched on 5 October, a second project includes the introduction of a mobile-based catch monitoring system. Using an integrated information management system (IMS), this pilot project will provide opportunities for more fishermen to be linked to the restaurant project through this mobile phone technology. Currently the IMS is only used to register the catches but plans are in place to develop further modules that will make life easier for fishers, such as providing fishermen with a trading platform for their catches.

The third project underway is the implementation of an internal control system which will ensure that the women’s co-operative – combined with broader community structures to come with the policy implementation – have effective traceability systems in place. Implementing traceability in the Kogelberg small-scale fisheries will boost transparency and provide the fishermen with new opportunities in both the formal and retail market.

Looking ahead, 2016 promises to be an exciting year as the Department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has planned several policy implementation steps, and WWF-SA will continue with the current project implementation. The rest of the action plan projects for 2016 consists of four environmental and fair labour practice projects which will focus on core environmental issues where the fishing community will be involved. WWF-SA tries to ensure that all these projects will give fishers opportunities to establish small companies to offer community-based marine research services as well as combat poaching. The main aim is not to proliferate many co-operatives but to see different community entities such as the women’s co-operative working in cohesion and investing their income into community development.

Also in October, WWF-SA employed a local project co-ordinator – Thelisa Mqoboka – to work in the Kleinmond area to support all the fishers, starting with the women’s co-operative. Her role will be to support the fishing community to implement the improvement projects, together with several other side projects to assist them in sustaining themselves. Fishers are encouraged to approach Ms Mqoboka at her office in the Kleinmond harbour to enquire about the improvement projects that would interest them to get involved in.