Last week I had the opportunity to attend a fisheries indaba in Port Elizabeth. An indaba, for those that are unaware, traditionally refers to an important conference held by the izinDuna (principal men) of the Zulu or Xhosa peoples. It's now a generally accepted term for a gathering or meeting in the South African context. Due to a recent influx of dissatisfaction expressed by fishing communities, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) decided to hold this conference as a means for participants to air their grievances and offer productive solutions. It was a two-day event attended by the top officials from the department, including the Deputy Minister, Bheki Cele.
Upon arrival at the venue, guests were asked to state their affiliation and which sector of fisheries they were interested in. The choices were: Small-scale (which I think was what the majority of attendees were interested in), Commercial, and Aquaculture (some huge developments there). I chose to attend the Small-Scale and Commercial talks, only finding out how progressive the aquaculture sector currently is during a presentation addressed to all in attendance.
On the first day, filling the main room of the conference centre, all attendees heard issues raised and "solutions" offered from various members of the fishing community. This included the Eastern Cape Black Fishers Association, the Squid Fishing Association, some DAFF advisers and even the Deputy Minister himself. When I say solutions offered, I mean certain groups blaming another certain group for historic set-backs and no feasible solutions being put forth. Also, if I have to hear the word "radical economic transformation" one more time, I will likely paddle my kayak into the next available squall (hectic storm over the ocean).
The fortunate thing for those in attendance (90% of which were Xhosa speakers) and unfortunate for me was that much of the conversation took place in Xhosa. I feel that is fair, since A.) This indaba was mostly aimed at Xhosa speaking people who can't easily access methods of communication with government and B.) I don't speak any other languages than my native language aside from "pizza," "taco" and "crepe"... There was a person from DAFF, however, that gave the highlights of each discussion in English, for the 5 or 6 of us that needed it.
The main theme of the indaba seemed to be increasing the accessibility of fisheries to previously disadvantaged communities. Many of the representatives from fishing communities spoke of issues relating to: labour rights, permit allocations, funding, W̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ monopoly capital, catch limits and quotas (not the fish catch related ones).
The small scale fishing community in attendance hailed from coastal communities all around the Eastern Cape including some very rural locations of the Wild Coast. DAFF organised transportation and accommodation for individuals over 500km away from the venue that wished to attend. A nice gesture of inclusion. Perhaps the most vocal of all the groups in attendance, these fishers felt that their voices were not being heard and their concerns not being recognised. The Wild Coast of South Africa harbours a significant amount of the nations informal subsistence fishermen. I say informal because they haven't actually been designated subsistence fishermen by permit (although some have). Anyone who has been to Port St. Johns or Hole in the Wall has likely encountered them (or even purchased their services). They are the ones that are trying to hawk whatever fish or crustacean they caught that morning (or the previous morning.. or longer.. we don't know for sure). Some of these fishers in the Wild Coast have created community co-operatives. These co-operatives have been allocated temporary and limited rights to catch crayfish to sell to a Food Processing Establishment (FPE) that may only produce the final product for export (aka. We can't enjoy it). They are trying to formalise to the point of being small-scale fishers so that they may legally catch fish and crayfish to sell to local markets. The journey to do so has not been an easy one so far, which is why they were a very upset crowd. They demanded easier access to fishing rights, citing the number of permits given to a race that is different from theirs. Conversations often erupted into shouting and clapping/whistling from the gallery. I have no idea what was being said during these occasions but its safe to say the convo was heated. Personally, I feel that coastal communities should be allowed to access their resources if the area is not a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and if there is a thorough understanding of the importance of sustainable fishing practices. The argument by these communities that "MPAs are "racist" and that they are not protecting food security etc. pretty much ruined that for me. Needless to say, I don't think these communities are ready for that just yet.
The talk around commercial fisheries was for more financial investment in "Africans" (non-whites) by DAFF... Something that is actually out of their capacity as a government agency. After repeatedly being told that DAFF does not provide funding/loans etc. I think they got the message.. maybe... Another issue with the commercial fishers again involved race. Again, many of the points/solutions raised were actually counter-intuitive to what some would call progress. Finally there was talk about rights for commercial fishers (and fishers in general). Labour/human rights that is. Not fishing rights (although that was sort of mentioned too). These were incredibly valid points. One argument that stuck out for me was that sea going vessels (which can be spending easily R3 million per month on fuel) are not covered by the Road Accident Fund (RAF). This point is definitely going to need clarification, I can feel it.
So the RAF is a state insurer established by statute. It provides insurance cover to all drivers of motor vehicles in South Africa in respect of liability incurred or damage caused as a result of a traffic collision. This is funded by a levy placed on fuel purchases. As mentioned before, fishers spend significant amounts of money on fuel, however an accident at sea while on the boat does not allow them access to a fund that they pay into. For them an accident on the boat could be career ending and in my opinion, if the RAF is covering drunk people who walk in front of a car on the N2 (and that don't pay into the fund), why should these fishermen be excluded from the fund?
Unfortunately I missed out on some of the aquaculture talk. This seems to be a hot topic. Fish farming is growing at a rapid pace in South Africa. These "farms" require a significant amount of start-up cash to begin operation as well as significant environmental observation. As a result, there were some in attendance who felt that the government (with its seemingly infinite budget for luxury vehicles) provide the start-up money for previously disadvantaged groups to begin an aquaculture business. One got the impression that the complainants felt that operating a fish farm requires little knowledge of biology and water management systems etc. and anyone with some money can do it. Again, the DAFF officials gave the explanation of why they can't fund people (because its not their job). Nonetheless there was feedback from a DAFF adviser that works in aquaculture on the recent developments in South Africa. A proposed prawn farm on the northern KZN coastline, sea-urchin farm, more edible fish farms and the "success" of the current ones. Success refers to the fact that it wasn't a failure, however there are still a lot of developments and improvements in current systems that need to take place.
These were the main points I took away from the Indaba. There may have been some that I missed due to the awesome food poisoning I received on the first day of the event or the fact that much of the indaba was in a language I don't comprehend. Overall, I found it refreshing that the top officials from this department dedicated some time to hear from the people that their decisions often affect the most. Sorry that there was nothing to report on for recreational, subsistence or any other line-fishermen, aside from mentions about increasing enforcement. Maybe if you get loud enough an indaba can be designated for you?