Call to recognise subsistence fisherfolk

Akeel Shaik, Bernard Peters and Nishal Shaik at Blue Lagoon. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Akeel Shaik, Bernard Peters and Nishal Shaik at Blue Lagoon. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 1, 2023


DURBAN’S fisherfolk claim their livelihood and family fishing legacy are at risk as they face harassment from law enforcement authorities, permit limitations and rising E.coli levels at the local beaches.

At a recent meeting facilitated by the KwaZulu Natal Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum (KZNSFF) and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), fishermen from Verulam, Umdloti, Phoenix, Durban Central, Wentworth, Merebank, Chatsworth and Isipingo, came together to raise their concerns.

The KZNSFF was formed in 2003 to address the issues of access to piers and discrimination against low income fishermen. It has 25 000 members across KZN.

John Paul Narayansamy, chairman of the forum, said the major challenge over the years had been for local fishermen to be recognised as subsistence fishers.

“Currently the only option we have when we do buy our annual angling permit, is to be classified as recreational fishers. Considering the high unemployment rate and the number of people living below the poverty line, people are now fishing to sustain a living. They catch fish to put food on the table and also sell to supplement their income. A recreational permit means you are indulging in some kind of a sporting activity or you're doing something for fun or for leisure.

“As a recreational permit holder you're not allowed to catch more than 10 fish per day nor sell. We want those regulations to be changed so that it can fit the purpose to a person who is sustaining a living from the ocean. Together with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment we have been looking at how we can be classified as subsistence fishers,” said Narayansamy.

He said offshore drilling and polluted waters in the region had resulted in fish migrating to cleaner waters offshore.

“Poor fisherfolk generally catch fish within 50 to 100m from the beach and off-rock. The fish have migrated to cleaner waters. They do not have boats to go deep-sea fishing. So it is the poor fisherfolk who are marginalised and deprived of conducting the fishing activities needed to sustain their living,” he Narayansamy.

Nashlyn Venketasen at Blue Lagoon pier. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Desmond D'Sa, co-ordinator of the SDCEA said: “Oil and chemical leaks from vessels offshore are also polluting our waters in the harbour. In eThekwini we have the constant problem of sewage flowing into estuaries, the canals, the harbour and the ocean.

“The sewage is a major issue. It's all over the coastline and continues to be a problem. It is not being monitored enough. We don't believe the E.coli level has changed much. For example, if you take samples for testing from a beach in the Central Durban area that are found to be contaminated with E.coli, then how is it possible that North Beach and South Beach are okay? The municipality is not considering rip currents, the direction of the wind, and weather.

“We need healthy and adequate beaches, not only for tourists, but for our locals who live off the catch from the beaches and harbour. All of these things are very critical. We can only deal with them if we work together with the government and the necessary parastatals to clean these areas, increase security and resolve issues around quotas and permits, for the good of the fishing community and the general community,” said D’Sa.

Nishal Shaik at Blue Lagoon. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

On the issue of permits, Peter Mbelengwa, the Chief Director: Communication and Advocacy for the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and The Environment, said: “There are three different types of fishing recognised under Marine Living Resources Act, namely: Commercial Fishing, Small-scale Fishing and Recreational Fishing. It should be noted that when the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) was amended in 2015 to make provision for the recognition of small-scale fisheries which, at the same time, did away with the recognition of subsistence fishing.”

He said the department was working with representatives of subsistence fishers and the Legal Resources Centre and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“The purpose of this is to identify fishers, who may have been left out of the process and commence with the process of recognising them. The department is in the process of reviewing the MLRA and all other legislative framework related to it... ”

He said the department would also look into following the process of recognising small-scale fishers and identifying a fishing community (not geographical community) by forming cooperatives as per the guidelines of the small-scale policy and giving that cooperative(s) a fishing right under section 18 with a basket of species.

Addressing the issue of pollution from offshore vessels, Mbelebgwa said: “The department, along with other relevant stakeholders, specifically the South African Maritime Safety Authority, the Department of Transport, and the Petroleum Agency of South Africa recognise the need for the monitoring of shipping and offshore drilling activities in our maritime waters.

“As a result, a number of initiatives have been developed to address this monitoring, including the review and updating of methodologies for monitoring where feasible and practical. The department engages activity on this issue on a regular basis, through bodies such as the Interim Incident Management Organisation, recognising the constant need to improve on the country’s capability to monitor our seas.

“The National Oceans and Coastal Information Management System (OCIMS) is an example of one of the initiatives under development by the Department that will support the improvement of the country’s monitoring capabilities.”

Gugu Sisilana, spokesperson for eThekwini Municipality, shared the latest results from the last beach water quality samples taken on November 20.

“The concerns are unwarranted because all the beaches in the city are open and safe for bathing. The beach water quality samples are tested twice a week, at the eThekwini Municipal laboratory, which is ISO 17025 accredited, and there is traceability of who did what and when.

“We have competent scientists rendering a crucial service for the municipality to ensure safety. Those who think results are being manipulated means they don’t understand how the ISO System works and what the accreditation is all about.”


FOR years, Charles and Leila Abrahams of Phoenix have relied on the sea to feed their family and bring in extra income.

Charles, who is fondly known as Bob in the fishing community, said he had been fishing for 40 years and Leila for 28 years.

“Because of financial challenges and circumstances at home, we had to do something to supplement our income and earn an honest living. What we catch we eat at home and sell some for extra money,” Bob said.

“Fishing is costly. We need petrol and cracker bait. We also need to support our families, we have to pay rent, lights and water. What we sell helps us to cover these kinds of costs.”

Leila said that on top of that, they had to deal with the many obstacles like sewage and pollution that threatened the fish and their health, permit issues and being chased off some piers.

“Often, metro police chase us from the higher piers and move us to the lower piers where we are hit constantly by the waves, drenched to the bone and left soaking wet. Many of us fall terribly sick as a result of this. Right now I am battling with my lungs but we carry on fishing because we do what we must to survive.”

Bob explained: “Currently, they allow us to fish at Snake Park Pier and Blue Waters Pier – these are low piers where we are hit by the water. But the other deep water piers, like Bay of Plenty and Bench Pier, stand empty and are closed to us. These piers are longer and higher. We've been told that we can't use these in the daytime because of the risk of tourists and surfers being hooked. But at night, from 6pm to 6am, the beaches are effectively closed. So, why can't we be allowed to fish then? We need to find a middle ground.”

Dr Kira Erwin, a researcher at the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology, conducted with fisherfolk in Durban, looking at ocean governance and issues of inclusion and justice.

She said solutions could be found and that the fisher legacies that must be protected.

“There are already conversations happening with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment towards these fishers needing to be included more.

“Fishing, particularly in Durban, has a very long heritage, stemming from the 1800s when the indentured labourers were brought here. So, a lot of those stories about what the ocean means to people, and how important it is for well-being and as a space of healing and the spiritual ritual are also passed down in fishing activity.

“Almost every fisherman that we spoke to had been taught about this, and taught how to fish by a family member. A brother, an uncle, a father, a grandfather; a grandmother, a mother. So, fishing is also about a cultural tradition passed down and that has become very important for fishers here,” said Erwin.

Akeel Shaik, Bernard Peters, Nashlyn Venketasen, and Nishal Shaik fishing at Blue Lagoon. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Gugu Sisilana, eThekwini Municipality’s spokesperson, said fishing was permitted on Bay Pier, North Beach Pier and Dairy Pier.

“There was terrible abuse on these piers by the fisherman. Issues such as littering, drinking, drugs, assaults, sleeping, burning of fires and assaulting surfers with fishing equipment were raised numerous times but there was no improvement. Most of the fishermen are not compliant in terms of the National Environmental Management Act and have no valid licenses, catching undersized fish and exceeding the bag limit, etc.”


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