South Africa’s new inland fisheries policy aims to unlock its potential

A fisher in South Africa poses with their catch. The country's new inland fisheries policy hopes to enhance food security and drive economic development.

South Africa said it is committed to taking advantage of the recently approved inland fisheries policy to unlock the country’s inland fisheries resource potential in a drive to achieve food security, job creation, and economic development goals.

South African Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said, in an opinion piece in News24, that the recent approval of South Africa’s National Freshwater (Inland) Wild-Capture Fisheries Policy transforms the nation's small-scale fishing sector by addressing several hurdles that hampered growth, leaving many fishers impoverished despite fishing playing diverse roles in their livelihoods ranging “from fishing part-time for food to it being a full-time commercial occupation.”

In September 2021, the South Africa Cabinet approved the policy “to support and guide the sustainable development and management of the inland fisheries sector,” using methods including legislative reform, to empower rural communities and increase equitable access to the sustainable resource.

Currently, according to Creecy, freshwater fisheries have short value chains and typically are either being sold fresh or consumed by the fishers the same day.

“South Africa’s inland fisheries are managed in terms of conservation and biodiversity objectives and are not sufficiently recognized as a livelihood opportunity, a source of food security, or as a contributor to the economy,” she said. “Small-scale fishers have expressed concerns that their fishing rights, traditional and customary fishing practices, as well as contributions to rural livelihoods are not recognized by the government and other stakeholders, despite indigenous knowledge relating to traditional and customary fishing culture, gear, and common pool resource governance being present in some communities, and has been adapted to modern circumstances.”

The new policy ensures an integrated multi-departmental and multi-stakeholder approach to the sustainable development of the inland fisheries sector, while addressing the current need for transformation and growth of value chains linked to the inland fisheries sector.

Going forward, Creecy said the informal and unrecognized activities of small-scale fishers in inland areas would henceforth be formalized. She added her department will promulgate national and provincial legislation that allows for the issuance of permits and authorizations to individuals, legal entities or community groups – a departure from the current situation, where fishing activities are regulated by the provincial departments responsible for environmental management.

“Inland fishing permits and authorizations will continue to be issued in terms of provincial environmental acts, ordinances, and regulations while the work surrounding the inland fisheries legal framework unfolds,” Creecy said.

Under the new policy, South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment is adopting what it calls an “ecosystem approach to fisheries" that would make it possible to “increase the contribution of fisheries to sustainable development through considering ecological constraints, such as habitat protection and restoration, pollution reduction, waste management, [and] sustainable harvesting of fisheries resources.”

The minister pledged to ensure small-scale fishers living close to a waterbody of interest are given priority during the issuance of permits “without unfairly discriminating against other resource-users.”

“An efficient and user-friendly registration and permitting system for all resource-user categories will be investigated by the department,” she said.  

Photo courtesy of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity


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