SOUTH AFRICA: 'They Haven’t Got a Choice: They Must Go to Sea'

  • by Kristin Palitza speaks to NAOMI CLOETE, chairperson of Coastal Links West Coast Region (paternoster, south africa)
  • Inter Press Service

The governmental quota system, which is aimed at regulating the fishing industry to prevent over-fishing, only benefits large fishing businesses, while subsistence fishermen cannot afford to purchase permits with high enough quotas to make a living, experts say.

As a result, unemployment and poverty are on the rise, which often results in alcoholism and drug abuse, increased crime, poor health and reduced access to education.

Coastal Links, a community-based network of small-scale, traditional fishing and coastal communities on South Africa’s West Coast, has been lobbying government agencies, particularly the Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) unit of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), to secure coastal dwellers’ rights to marine resources and sustainable livelihood alternatives.

Q: What is Coastal Links’ mandate? NAOMI CLOETE: We represent the traditional fishermen here on the West Coast, who make their living from the sea. Years ago, MCM cut them totally out [from the quota system] because most fisher people are not schooled, and the quota system is complicated to understand. People struggle to fill out the forms, pay for permits and demand their rights.

Until now, MCM was only looking out for the big fishing companies, those who make the big money. So, ten years ago, I decided I must help the fisher people, because nobody did, and someone must be their voice.

Q: What support do you receive from government? A: They are now busy protecting us, because Coastal Links has been lobbying. At first, they didn’t let us through the door, but now they have started to listen.

The new minister (of DEAT, Buyelwa Patience Sonjica) is very understanding. I think she will make a real effort to help us. She also comes from a small, little village, so she knows what it is to be poor.

Q: What has your working relationship with MCM been like in the past? A: It went up and down, up and down. But now, Coastal Links is recognised by MCM, and I think the suffering is a little less for the fishermen. MCM comes (to the West Coast) and listens to the people.

It’s now the fourth year that we get subsistence permits free of charge that allow us to catch and sell four crayfish per person per day. It’s little, but better than nothing. The fuel for the boats and the bait is so expensive, there’s not much money to be made. What comes home is just enough to put food on the table.

Q: What are your demands? A: We want to raise the quota to 90 crayfish per month. So it’s ten more per month. But the most important thing for us is to move away from a daily quota to a monthly quota. So that if a fisherman catches his 90 crayfish in the first two weeks (of the month), he can fill his quota that way.

That means he doesn’t have to go and get four each day. It’s more economical because it can save a lot of fuel. Also, it gives him time to fish for the rest of the month, although fish doesn’t make a lot of money. It’s just a little extra.

We have proposed this to the minister, and we are now waiting to see what she says. I think she will do it, but it will take another two to three years to get things in order.

Q: What are your hopes for a better future? A: The fisher people say they don’t want to be rich; they just want to be comfortable. They want a future for their children. But right now, they haven’t got a choice: they must go to sea. There is no other way of making a living.

You see, my son is 18 years old now, and he was 11 when his father took him to sea. That’s how he learnt, and he’s a fisherman of his own now. He left school when he was 16. I would have liked to keep him in school (to further his education), but we haven’t got the money. His father is a fisherman. So our son has got to go to sea.

Q: What is your personal background? A: I grew up in a fishing family, here in Paternoster. My father was a fisherman and so was my grandfather. I know exactly how difficult the situation is.

What made me eager (to become chairperson of Coastal Links) was that when my father died, we didn’t even have a small boat in front of our house to show what he was working for. His boss, who he was working for at a big fishing company, for 48 years, paid him very little money. In the end, he had nothing. He was exploited.

Q: What role do women usually play in the fishing community? A: The women were all working at the fishing factory in St Helena Bay (near Paternoster), doing the packing and so on, but because of all the retrenchments, they are now staying at home. They are unemployed. It’s a huge problem. There is so much poverty.

And there is much crime coming from the poverty, and the other thing is the drugs. The alcohol abuse is bad, but the worst is the tik (crystal meth). People go and steal for the drugs. And it’s all because people don’t have work. The whole community is affected.

Q: What access to health care do you have in your community? A: We only have one small (government) clinic that is open three days a week. There’s just a nurse, who can’t do much. But since very recently, there’s a doctor coming on a Friday. We put it on the table with the town council and asked for a doctor to come to Paternoster.

We need a doctor here, because now, if somebody is sick, they must go to Vredenburg hospital. But where’s the money to do that? It’s 15 kilometres, and people don’t have the money to pay to get there.

Q: Have you seen an impact of poverty on children’s education in your community? A: The poorer people are, the earlier they send their children to sea. That’s what happened to my son. And the other children also must go to sea because there is no money to stay in school. If they stay in school until they are 15 or 16, they are lucky.

If people struggle to make a living, their children leave school even earlier, right after primary school. Most of the people here don’t have more education than that. And without education you can’t improve your living.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service