Long after the official opening of the crayfish season in South Africa on November 15, the boats lay idle on the beach in West Coast fishing villages like Paternoster. Fishing permits from the Marine and Coastal Managment unit (MCM) of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had not been issued.
'We are just waiting,' Clive Jordaan, a fifth-generation Paternoster fisherman told IPS in November. 'We can’t fish because the (issuing of the) permits has been delayed by MCM, because there has been corruption. We are now trying to find out what is going to happen.'
Unable to go out to sea to earn a living, the fishermen had no choice but to stay at home until they receive their licences - even if it means that they cannot put food on the table.
Each crayfish season, Coastal Links, a community-based network of traditional fishing and coastal communities on the country’s West Coast, helps small-scale fishermen in the area to apply for a subsistence permit, which allows them to catch and sell four crayfish a day.
'But this year, some people have tried to get licenses in more than one area. They put other people's names on the lists for free fishing permits from MCM, pretending those fishermen are their people. So that’s how they make money off us,' explains Coastal Links chairperson Naomi Cloete. 'Now the process (to get this year’s permits) is delayed because of corruption.'
To draw up a list of fishermen who legally qualify for the permits, Sandile Sibiya, deputy director of MCM’s subsistence and small-scale fisheries unit, has called a meeting to verify people’s identities.
The burly official calls out names and identity numbers, asking the community to tell him: 'Is this person a fisherman?' Although frustrated by the long-winded, bureaucratic process, the good-natured fishermen shout the answers through the echoing community hall, amidst much laughter.
An hour later, Sibiya departs with a list of about a hundred names and promises to come back soon with the permits. All the fishermen can do is wait for his return.
'(MCM) promised to hand out permits in a week's time,' says Jordaan after the meeting. 'We are hoping they will extend the season by two weeks so that we can make up for lost time next year.'
Permits were only finally issued on Dec. 19.
The delay in issuing permits has serious consequences for the fishermen, who barely manage to make ends meet as it is. 'If we can’t go out to fish, we can’t survive. Not having alternatives forces people into poaching. Desperation makes criminals out of us,' says Jerick Sampson, another subsistence fisherman.
In Paternoster, local fishermen are only able to make money during the five-month crayfish season, while there is little opportunity to generate income throughout the rest of the year, as shoals of fish seldom pass through their waters. But the government-issued subsistence licenses, don’t allow them to catch enough crayfish to support their families and save up money for out-of-season months.
'The four crayfish we are allowed to catch per day, we can sell for 200 rand, but fuel for our boats costs 150 rand ($20) a day and bait 120 rand. With two people per boat, we barely cut even,' says Jordaan.
To improve the situation, Coastal Links is lobbying MCM to extend subsistence permits to 90 crayfish a month - this would be ten crayfish more per month, but would also change the daily quota system to a monthly one. This way, fishermen would be able catch more crayfish every time they go out to sea and can therefore decrease their petrol expenditure to meet their quota.
Cloete believes DEAT will be amenable to Coastal Links’ demands, but reckons 'it will take another two or three years to get things in order'.
Others are less hopeful. 'For the last ten years government made promises, but nothing happens. Everything stays the same,' says local fisherman Fabian Fritz.
The fishermen's main struggle is that they cannot compete with medium-sized to large fishing companies, who have the financial resources to purchase large boats and apply for massive fishing quotas that enable them to make big profits.
'They are the only ones who make money out of the sea. We small fishermen are left behind,' laments Jordaan.
Paternoster Fisheries, for example, which owns a factory that processes crayfish, abalone and other seafood, fishes with three large boats and has a permit for 45 tonnes of crayfish (an average crayfish weighs about three kilograms) for the season — usually from mid-November to mid-April — but employs only about 30 people during the crayfish season to maximise profits, complains Sampson.
'They are the ones who make our lives difficult,' he says. 'If we small fishermen could get licenses like that, it could provide our community with jobs for 200 people. But we don’t have the resources to apply for those permits.'
The standard of living in traditional fishing communities like Paternoster is continuously decreasing.
'Poverty has gone up in the whole community. It's very difficult. We just can’t survive. There is no money for school fees or clothes,' says Jordaan. 'And we can’t get jobs elsewhere, either. Fishing is our only skill.'
Out of hopelessness and frustration, many of the unemployed descend into drugs and crime. 'There is a lot of theft and break-ins in our town. People are frustrated and are losing hope. Alcohol abuse and tik (crystal meth) are a big problem as well,' says Sampson.
He estimates that 90 percent of children from the fishing village end up jobless after they leave school, even if they pass their high school exams. 'Because the parents don’t have money to further their education and send them to university, and there are no jobs, they just wander around on the streets,' he says. Or they become fishermen, like their parents.
Most fishermen in Paternoster hope to be able to find a way of offering their children a better future — one that doesn’t involve fishing. Says Fritz: 'I have two kids, and I would like them to be anything but fishermen. I want them to have a life. I don’t want them to grow up like this.'
© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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