WESTERN CAPE: The small fishing community of Buffeljagsbaai, near Hermanus on the Cape south coast, is about as obscure as the sea snail that the locals have been harvesting here for generations.

But for a group of entrepreneurial women here, the ‘alikreuk’ – the South African turban sea snail or the alikreukel (Turbo sarmaticus) – is more than just a chewy sea creature to skewer on the end of a fishing hook, which is how the government sees it. They want to make a living out of pickling it, or making alikreuk frikadels and soups. For them, it’s a local delicacy which they believe they can woo passing tourists and maybe even find an export Chinese market.

The current permitting system for harvesting these sea snails from the intertidal zone only recognises it as a bait species for recreational fishing. This means that if these women want to collect alikreuk for their culinary enterprise, they can only harvest four snails a day under a daily permitting system which they must pay R90 for from the local Post Office.

Now, however, they’re working on an experimental permitting system which is geared towards giving them greater access to the snails, in a way that allows them to increase their own business output, while making sure the resource isn’t over harvested.

To run the pilot system, these women have teamed up with the Cape Town-based non-governmental organisation EMG (the Environmental Monitoring Group) to see if they can find a way to work with policy makers to change the current permitting system so that they can get easier access to these snails.

‘Historically, fisheries management hasn’t recognised alikreuk as a resource for communities like this,’ explains EMG’s fishers’ and famers’ programme manager Zukiswa Nomwa, ‘so the existing policies don’t allow permits for collecting it beyond for recreational fishing purposes, to use as a bait for catching fish.’

Learning from the Wild Coast mussel business

A group of Buffeljagsbaai women recently returned from a ‘expert exchange programme’ to Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast, about two hours’ drive north of East London, where another small community of fishers is working with fisheries policymakers to streamline their own permitting process so they can access wild mussels here.

‘This was an exchange programme where the Buffeljagsbaai community wanted to see how the Coffee Bay fishers piloted a co-management permitting system with the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries,’ explains Nomwa.

‘We wanted to see how they managed the mussels as a resource, and how they deal with other communities who also harvest the mussels but aren’t part of their permitting process,’ Nomwa says.

This exchange of ideas comes as the national fisheries department works to amend the current policy around fishing permits and quotas. By piloting a new community-based permitting system for alikreuk, the Buffeljagsbaai women hope to run a similar pilot project here, and thus bolster their own alternative livelihood strategies.

‘Because the current fishing policy sees alikreuk only as a bait species, it makes accessing permits very difficult. We want to pilot a system that allows harvesting of the snail for human consumption purposes. Right now there isn’t even an application form that allows for this. We’re working with the various national and provincial departments to draw something up.’