Barbara Creecy | SA's inland fisheries have been overlooked for too long

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Barbara Creecy. Photo: Jabu Kumalo
Barbara Creecy. Photo: Jabu Kumalo
Jabu Kumalo

Inland fisheries have thus far been overlooked despite democratic era reforms. But this is about to change, says Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy. 


The approval by Cabinet of the National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy for implementation unlocks the potential of South Africa’s inland fisheries resources to contribute to food security, job creation and economic development.

At present, South Africa’s inland fisheries are managed in terms of conservation and biodiversity objectives and are not sufficiently recognised as a livelihood opportunity, a source of food security, or as a contributor to the economy.  

While indigenous knowledge relating to traditional and customary fishing culture, gear, and common pool resource governance is present in some communities, and has been adapted to modern circumstances, small-scale fishers have expressed concerns that their fishing rights, traditional and customary fishing practices, as well as contributions to rural livelihoods are not recognised by the government and other stakeholders. 

Through the policy, the informal and unrecognised activities of small-scale fishers in inland areas are now formalised.

Despite access to other public resources such as marine fisheries, minerals, water and land have thus far been subjected to democratic era reform, inland fisheries had been overlooked. The lack of a national policy had hampered the sustainable utilisation of this natural resource and growth in the sector. 

Because fishing activities are currently regulated by the provincial departments responsible for environmental management in terms of their environmental Acts, national and provincial legislation will be promulgated to provide for permits and authorisations which may be issued to individuals, legal entities or community groups. Inland fishing permits and authorisations will continue to be issued in terms of provincial environmental Acts, ordinances and regulations, while the work surrounding the inland fisheries legal framework unfolds.

The new policy adopts the "ecosystem approach to fisheries" which aims to increase the contribution of fisheries to sustainable development through considering ecological constraints, such as habitat protection and restoration, pollution reduction and waste management, sustainable harvesting of fisheries resources.

An efficient regulatory regime for the inland fisheries sector is created and aligned with the Constitutional approach to natural resource utilisation, and the importance of the small-scale fisheries subsector and trade by local communities surrounding inland public waterbodies is recognised.

Most small-scale fishers are impoverished and the role of fishing in their livelihoods is diverse. It ranges from fishing part-time for food to it being a full-time commercial occupation. Because the value chains for freshwater fish are short with little value addition, fish are generally sold fresh informally, or are consumed by the family the same day.

The successful implementation of this policy is an opportunity for socio-economic benefits to reach these communities. This includes job creation, the improvement of rural livelihoods, food security, the development of Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMME) and economic development based on the small-scale and recreational fishing value chains.

Besides the need for an integrated multi-departmental and multi-stakeholder approach to enable the sustainable development of the inland fisheries sector, the need for transformation and growth of value chains linked to the inland fisheries sector is addressed alongside providing the basis for the establishment of dedicated resources and capacity for the sector.

Anglers can have an impact

The policy goes a step further by recognising recreational anglers as important stakeholders in South African inland fisheries and in future fisheries development initiatives. There are an estimated 1.5 million recreational anglers in the country, which have a significant economic impact through the tourism sector and related angling supply value chains.

In terms of the new policy, small-scale fishers living close to a waterbody of interest will be prioritised for issuing 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, in consultation with the National Treasury. The aim is to develop the most affordable permitting system and ensure that the permit application fees are minimal and affordable, with the possibility of exempting certain categories from paying for fishing permits.

Officials in all spheres of government are to be trained to effectively implement the measures required to stabilise and grow the sector.  Training will also be provided to ensure efficient enforcement of the policy and meaningful participation of fishers on the co-management structures.  

Barbara Creecy is Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. Views expressed are her own. 

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