CAPE TOWN: The fishing communities of the Cape West Coast have been managing their marine resources for decades, and their knowledge of the sea needs to be seen as a valuable resource by authorities who are grappling with the challenges of co-managing the country’s fisheries.

Zuki Nomwa, with the Cape-based civil society organisation the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), has been working with traditional fishing communities for three years to encourage local scientific research, and push for fair access to the sea’s resources. 

‘These communities are well aware that their livelihoods are attached to the sea. The resources in the sea, and the sustainable use of those fisheries, are important to them,’ she says.

EMG’s work with these fishers shows how they work together as a community so that the benefits of fishing rights spread beyond just those few individuals who have received permits to fish.

‘Only some fishers have permits to go to sea, but the community has pulled together, sometimes working in cooperatives. For instance, some women might be employed to clean and gut fish. So the whole community benefits from the employment opportunities that come from just a few people getting legal rights to fish.’

The community knows it’s in their best interest not to abuse this access and Nomwa maintains that they need to be supported in that.

‘The stories emerging from the community are in stark contrast to the perception that it’s each person for him- or herself out there, or that these fishers are just glorified poachers. They have their own indigenous ways of doing this. It’s time we take them seriously, and realise we can learn from them instead of trying to impose on them.’

EMG’s work here has encouraged communities to take this extensive local knowledge and apply it to a kind of citizen science, where fishers are encouraged to record sea temperature, weather conditions and fish catches. This allows the community to do their own vulnerability assessments, and design their own ‘home grown’ solutions.

Meanwhile the community has worked with EMG to push for improved health and safety practices, and better representation of fishers’ voices in the fishing policy design process so that they can get fair access to fishing permits.

Telling their story: a short video

The Sea Gives Me Hope is a short video made specifically for this fishing community, as a way of supporting their work, and to show how these coastal villages have a deep connection with the sea.

‘Their relationship with the sea is about more than just livelihoods and making money from the sea. It’s a traditional way of life, a way of being and we’re working towards preserving that way of life.’

For this community, fishing rights and sustainability are deeply intertwines: rights, without fish, are meaningless; fish resources, without rights, are as useless to them.

Watch The Sea Give Me Hope here:


For more information:  

Zuki Nomwa

Project coordinator: Farmers & Fishers

Tel: 021 448 2881

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow EMG on Twitter: @EnvMonGroup 

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