The irony of all the fuss that has been made about artisanal fishing this century, is the fact that during the 20th century very little artisanal fishing occurred in our country with the exception of certain Lake systems in northern of KwaZulu-Natal. Elsewhere, it can hardly be said that there were any but a few number of genuine indigenous fishermen who fished for their families and sometimes close friends, but seldom sold a fish just for money. I know because my fishing days go back to the middle of the last century, and I can vouch for the fact that there was little point in going up to a rock and surf angler and asking him to sell you a fish. If you wanted to buy fish you looked at the commercial boat fishermen, who were not controlled at all in those days, to sell their catch be it to a hawker, fish shop, restaurant, or individual.
In the past, coastal dwellers, again in relatively small numbers, collected shellfish as their food contribution from the sea. Then communities learnt about constructing fyvers, but again it was not to sell the fish entrapped, but rather share it out between the community that controlled, and had probably constructed, the fish trap. When commercial fishing took off firstly in the Cape, those who sought it as a means of making a living became boat fishermen, which really only developed to any great extent during the 19th century. Rock and Surf Angling only took off during the 20th century. All these so-called communities, who have long depended on the sea for a living, were communities of fishermen developed to service via boat, small or large, many fishing factories that came into being towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Where then did the belief develop, so comprehensively agitated for, that all these community members must have the historical right to fish our coastline as individuals or Co-op’s. Rather like a large degree of the land claims, it was simply based on delusional history. It has gone so far politically and socially that today we have no choice but to accept it as a fact of life, which hugely complicates our wish to see our valuable marine resources sustainably harvested. There is also unfortunately great uncertainty and disagreement as to how this new development should be handled. The first move was to create small-scale Co-op’s in some small coastal towns in the Northern Cape, with absolutely no thought as to how such an arrangement could be practically duplicated and controlled in the larger towns and cities. Then these Co-op’s were created to benefit from our most vulnerable coastal resource of all, spiny rock lobster, more commonly known as crayfish, a resource that had already started declining, due to the level of human predation, in the middle of the last century. All incidentally are said to be causing endless problems. This right then extended by natural progression to line fish and shellfish.
Again these were resources, particularly the abalone as shellfish, and the line fish, where prior uncontrolled commercial fishing by all and sundry had already seriously impacted upon their resource strengths. In a rush, unquestionably belatedly, regulations were brought in to try and curb these activities to sustainable levels. As is absolutely common in such situations, where action is taken too late, this simply resulted in a dramatic increase of illegal fishing before any reasonable compliance controls were considered. Unfortunately, compliance is a commodity that the authorities have virtually never got control of, neither financially, organisationally, nor manpower wise.
Today, this has become the heart of the problem, whilst it has been enormously exacerbated by the wishful consideration of so-called artisanal fishers, together with generally increasing Recreationals, all of whom need to be controlled. However, they are virtually able to do as they please with insignificant compliance existing.
How do we fix it? I really do not know! Certainly, Co-ops should only arise as a result of such a decision of a controllable reasonably isolated community, not by decree.
Having created so many Artisanals, allowing their activities to extend to small, thus somewhat dangerous, boats should really not be necessary. If you are going to fish from a boat, it should be as a member of the commercial line fish community. After all, by their very nature, they are small-scale, and virtually artisanal, but financially independent enough to be able to afford a reasonably safe craft. Anyhow again, from where would the compliance ability come from to control artisanals launching from anywhere? It would also probably be relevant to exclude some of the non-saleable line fish species from artisanal landings, but this would overcomplicate matters.
It is simply a fact that the whole concept of artisanal fishing practices, whether under the name of small-scale fisheries or not, should be very carefully reconsidered. My suggested changes to the present regulations is only an interim compromise!