Image by Luke Kaplan (2021)
Story by Taryn Pereira, Coastal Justice Network (19 November 2021)
In 2019 and 2020, Minister Barbara Creecy granted 15 year rights to 78 new small scale fishing cooperatives in the Eastern Cape. This followed the historic development of the small scale fisheries policy in 2012, which aimed to provide ‘redress and recognition to the rights of Small Scale fisher communities in South Africa previously marginalized and discriminated against…’.
Last week, 13 of these recently formed small scale fisher cooperatives from the coastline between Tsitsikamma and Kei Mouth, gathered at a workshop near Port Alfred to build solidarity, to share experiences and advice with one another, and to start to develop a shared vision for the small scale sector. These fisher leaders spoke and dreamed together about how to grow their co-operatives into sustainable businesses that treat workers with dignity, practice ethical fishing based on their deep local ecological knowledge, help to protect the ocean from extractive and damaging activities, and that invest their earnings back into community development initiatives such as drug rehabilitation programmes and youth employment.
Small scale fishers know the sea. Their relationships with the ocean are characterized by deep respect, intergenerational knowledge and sacred cultural connection. The ocean is life for these fisherfolk; and at last, they have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to their household and community economies, through their life giving relationship with the sea. Many co-op members have worked for decades as crew in the chokka (squid) industry, often under a form of debt slavery. In 2021 their co-ops were granted squid fishing permits, and they are eager to finally have the chance to run their own businesses, in ways that are better for workers, for their communities and for the ocean. These long awaited, long overdue opportunities for small scale fishers are completely undermined and threatened by the granting of oil and gas exploration rights in the ocean precisely where these communities are now allowed to fish.