Gqeberha fishermen set off to catch squid after 2 year wait

Coastal communities that are dependent on fishing fear the damage the Karpowership project will do to their primary source of food. Photo from Masifundise Facebook page

A challenge by the South African Squid Management Industrial Association has been at the centre of the delay experienced by small-scale fishers in Gqeberha.

Hangula Aihela could not hide his joy on Tuesday when he witnessed a crew of Khoisan fishermen sailing out of Port Elizabeth Harbour to catch squid. This was the first group of small-scale fishermen in the Eastern Cape to embark on such a voyage despite having got the licences in 2019.

Aihela, who migrated from Luderitz in Namibia to South Africa in 1988, said his life never improved for all the years he worked for commercial fisheries. He said he had been exploited. A member of the Eastern Cape Black Fishers Association, he is angry that he was retrenched last year by a commercial company after more than five years of service. He left the company empty-handed.

He told Elitsha, “They retrenched most fishermen citing the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. I spent the whole of last year seated at home. It has been a very painful experience. I am now looking forward to working with the co-operative to improve my wellbeing.”

Aihela stays in an informal settlement in Missionvale with his wife and one child who is doing Grade 6 while he has five children in Namibia.

About 100 fishermen and their families thronged the harbour on the day to witness the departure of four boats carrying 40 members of the Khoisan Small-Scale Fisheries. The fishermen will spend three weeks at sea catching squid.

The issuing of the permits for small-scale fishermen to catch squid was not reached easily. It had been a contentious issue as commercial fisheries blocked the process, said Xola Ngcanga, chairman of the Eastern Cape Black Fishers Association. He said it often pained him that small-scale fishermen were not allowed to utilise the permits they were given by Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Barbara Creecy, because commercial farmers contested the process.

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Ngcanga said, “We are here to celebrate our progress in the fishing industry. We were given fishing rights by minister Creecy in 2019. The South African Squid Management Industrial Association (SASMIA) decided to contest the original quota of 25% of squid caught. The government backed down and eventually allocated us a quota of 15% total squid caught.

“The Minister will have to tell us how much this translates in terms of quantity.”

In 2020, Minister Creecy allocated 15-year rights to various fishing co-operatives across the Eastern Cape. She said then that a commercially viable catch was needed if the co-operatives were to succeed. Soon after awarding the quota to small-scale fishermen in June, she could announce, “In a historic step forward for transformation of the small-scale fishing sector, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, has allocated 15% of the squid catch to the small-scale fisheries sector.

“Prior to this decision, squid was not in the basket of species available. This apportionment will be reviewed at the beginning of every fishing season with the view of increasing the portion available to the small-scale fisheries sector to 25% of the total allowable effort in this fishery.

“The review will be subject to the annual status of squid resource, fishing patterns and fishing practices of new and existing right holders and the needs of coastal communities which are dependent mainly on fishing.”

Ngcanga said his co-operative and the Khoisan Small-Scale Fisheries were the only two small-scale fishing organisations in the Nelson Mandela Bay area.

Chairman of Eastern Cape Khoisan Small-Scale Fisheries, Deon Spandiel, told Elitsha, “We are glad to launch our boats and change our lives. We see there is a bright future and expect to uplift the livelihoods of our members and their families.

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“Most of our members are highly experienced as they have been working for commercial fisheries before. We also have a dozen of women who will be cleaning, sorting, and packaging the fish before we sell them. Fishermen will be paid a good remuneration and we will continue with the system of paying per load brought by a fisherman.”

‘We are grateful that we will be using boats belonging to a local commercial fisheries company. They will also market our fish.”

A member of the Eastern Cape Khoisan Fisheries, Hilton Prinsloo, already sells fish across the country. He said his business will now grow considerably. “I travel around the country selling all species of fish. This is an important milestone in my life because it will give me an opportunity to get species of fish that the commercial fisheries did not want to sell to me. They held a monopoly on species that are in demand. That monopoly is fast coming to an end now thanks to the permits awarded to small-scale fisheries,” said Prinsloo.

Prinsloo stays with his three children after his wife recently passed away.

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