By Jessie Taylor
A new policy, recently approved by Cabinet, will unlock the potential of South Africa’s inland fisheries resources. This, in turn, will create jobs, add to economic development and help improve food security.
The National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy recognises the informal activity of small-scale fishers in inland areas and formalises this sector. This will go a long way to ensure these inland resources are sustainably used and harnessed to their full potential.
Potential as economic drivers
Inland fisheries have traditionally been managed as conservation and biodiversity resources, and until the new policy, had not been recognised for their potential as livelihood opportunities or economic drivers.
“The lack of a national policy had hampered the sustainable utilisation of this natural resource and growth in the sector,” says Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy.
The new policy will allow for the promulgation of national and provincial legislation to provide permits and authorisations to be issued to individuals, legal entities or community groups. The policy will effectively decriminalise fishing from inland fisheries for purposes other than sport.
Fishing activities in South Africa are currently regulated by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. The existing regulations only provide for recreational fishing, which has created an informal sector around inland fishing for commercial purposes.
The new policy adopts the ecosystem approach to fisheries which aims to increase the contribution of fisheries to sustainable development through considering ecological constraints. This includes habitat protection and restoration, pollution reduction and waste management, sustainable harvesting of fisheries resources, says Minister Creecy.
“An efficient regulatory regime for the inland fisheries sector is created and aligned with the Constitutional approach to natural resource utilisation, and the importance of the small-scale fisheries sub-sector and trade by local communities surrounding inland public water bodies is recognised,” she says.
Formalising this sector can have far-reaching effects for those who make a living fishing from inland water bodies. The majority of small-scale fishers are impoverished, and the role of fishing in their livelihoods ranges from part-time fishing for food to full-time commercial occupations.
“Because the value chains for freshwater fish are short with little value addition, fish are generally sold fresh informally or are consumed by the family the same day,” explains Minster Creecy.
A sustainable future for fisherfolk
The implementation of the policy will ensure socio-economic benefits reach the communities that rely on inland fishing.
This is the first national policy to guide the sustainable utilisation of freshwater fisheries and allow for the development of small-scale fisheries sub-sector and trade by local communities surrounding inland public water bodies.
The inland fisheries sector has, for many years, operated with no legislative framework for its governance and little recognition for the vital role inland fisheries play as food producers. Due to a lack of clear, national-level policy and legislation regulating the inland fisheries, many inland fishers have been forced to rely on recreational fishing permits – the only permit option that currently exists for them, explains Carmen Mannarino, Programme Manager at Masifundise, an organisation that supports small scale fishers.
Mannarino adds that the pandemic placed additional burdens on inland fisherfolk by destabilising their income and threatening livelihood.
“The lockdown regulations and restrictions that were implemented by the South Africa government in response to the pandemic have greatly impacted the ability of inland fishers to access their fishing grounds and to ensure local food security. Inland fishers were, in some cases, prohibited from carrying out their fishing activities by local conservation and water management authorities as well as the police,” she said.
However, formalising the sector will go a long way to securing the rights of fisherfolk, she adds.
Small-scale fishers living close to a water body of interest will be prioritised for issuing permits. The Department will investigate a registration and permitting system for all resource-user categories.
“The aim is to develop the most affordable permitting system and ensure that the permit application fees are minimal and affordable, with the possibility of exempting certain categories from paying for fishing permits,” says Minster Creecy.
The policy is necessary to sustainably develop the country’s inland fisheries sector, which produces an estimated 900 metric tons of fish and will be aligned to Operation Phakisa. As the government’s ocean economy strategy, Operation Phakisa looks to harness marine resources for economic development and aims to grow the aquaculture sector from R2 billion to up to R6 billion by 2030. The programme aims to create an additional 210 000 jobs in the next decade.
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