South African cabinet approves long-awaited inland fisheries policy

Published on
August 12, 2021

South Africa’s cabinet has approved the long-awaited National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy, providing an efficient regulatory framework for the utilization of the country’s inland fisheries sector.

The policy also formalizes the currently informal and un-recognized activities of small-scale fisheries across the country, according to a government statement after the 4 August cabinet meeting.

“The policy, amongst others, provides for the setting up of developmental fisheries’ governance institutions, support to growing inland fisheries value chains, management of a sustainable inland fishing and addresses the issues of equity and transformation of the sector,” the statement said.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) had previously said the policy is what South Africa requires to sustainably develop the country’s inland fisheries sector, which produced an estimated 900 metric tons of fish in 2016, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

DEFF said that although the South African inland fisheries resources “have the potential to contribute to food security, job creation, and economic development,” the delayed approval and implementation of a national policy governing the harnessing of the resources “has hampered the development of the sector.”

“While access to other public resources such as marine fisheries, minerals, water, and land have thus far been subject to democratic era reform, inland fisheries have been overlooked,” DEFF said.

The approved policy, when fully implemented, will align inland fisheries’ regulatory framework with South Africa’s constitutional requirements – particularly on the procedures in the utilization of the natural resource for the benefit of the small-scale fishers and the country’s seafood sector in general.

Also contained in the approved policy is a pathway to inland fisheries’ “legislative reform and harmonization, the definition of access rights, criteria for ensuring sustainable harvest levels, government organizational structure and capacity, cooperative governance and co-management arrangements, and the empowerment of rural communities to participate equitably in sustainable resource use.”

The new policy is expected to transform South Africa’s inland fisheries from a fishery of no commercial significance dominated by recreational fishing, to a sector with the potential “to better the lives of poverty-stricken communities,” according to the Cape Town-based Masifundise – a non-governmental organization that organizes fishing communities at the grassroots level.

“Inland fishers have consistently been sidelined, marginalized, and excluded from accessing fishing grounds and benefiting from freshwater resources,” Maia Nangle of Masifundise said.

For decades, inland water fishers have battled marginalization and criminalization with no defined procedure on engaging with the South African authorities for support, Masifundise said.

Masifundise contends the lack of a regulatory framework in the form of an inland fisheries policy “has made fishers incredibly vulnerable.”

“Nothing currently exists to protect the rights of inland fishers making them easy to targets for victimization,” the NGO previously said.

DEFF said the approved policy will not only pave way for the development of an efficient regulatory regime for the freshwater wild-capture fisheries sector to support sustainable growth and transformation of the natural resource, but also comes with comprehensive producer development support that “will guide and regulate support services provided to the various categories of producers in the sector.”

Photo courtesy of Masifundise

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