Drama unfolds in South Africa when frustrated fishermen, turned poachers according to Administration, turn violent. Can the strategy of regaining fishing grounds in El Hierro (Spain) inspire the ancient custodians of the First Nation?
When, on August 12, 2018, the frustrations of a group of dis-empowered fisherman boiled over after one man was killed, protest action led to the office and the residence of a Fisheries Department official in the outskirts of Cape Town being set on fire. This senseless violence and aggression, and the subsequent looting, is being condemned by the whole nation. The destruction of public property and the endangering of the lives of officials will lead to prosecution and prison time.
The question is how the collapse of public order could be explained? What drove the coloured people, who had ancestral rights to these fishing grounds for centuries, to turn to destruction? Let us remind the reader that the Cape is home to the descendants of one of the First World Nations, the Khoi and the San cultures. Indigenous people have practiced sustainable fishing along these coasts for millennia. Even during the Apartheid years the traditional rights to these fishing grounds were upheld.
Demand for seafood – like tuna, and especially luxury items such as rock lobsters and abalone – is rapidly rising. National Governments, like that of South Africa, saw a unique opportunity to generate revenue and have "professionalized" the fishing industry. Licenses to fish are granted to large corporations disregarding the ancient rights. It appears that only those well advised by legal experts who reserved "parts of the action" to Black Empowerment Groups, who had historically never fished, got quotas. This analysis is shared by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, a former Managing Director of the World Bank and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.
The exclusion of all the local fishermen resulted in a major uproar. The operators of small boats, which based on local investigations with the community used to earn US$ 500 to US$ 800 per day, supporting a dozen families, made their frustrations known. The corporates offered them jobs. Their ancient fishing rights were replaced by a salary of barely US$ 300 per month (and this only during the fishing season). This in reality “guaranteed” that poaching would take place, as it is the only way of survival. From here onwards, the vicious spiral of dismantling of trust, and the desperate search for economic survival – combined with a black market for produce that pays a premium for out of season harvests –leads to the decimation of fish stocks, leaving an ecosystem incapable of producing sustainably. In the meantime, the local market is flooded with deep-frozen Argentinian shrimp and expensive Norwegian salmon – marketed as trendy and healthy.
Few people realise how globalisation has created a transparent pricing on the black market. This is leading to the total annihilation of tuna, abalone and lobsters in the Cape. As the sources turn more scarce, the price increases, which spurs the locals to accelerate over-harvesting, ensuring a total collapse. We have seen this pattern elsewhere. Few Europeans like to be reminded of the fact that the North Sea between Scotland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands once was home to 20,000 square kilometres of oysters. All were eaten, causing murky waters ever since. No steps were ever taken to redress the destruction of this ecosystem.
While there is no short term solution, there are long term options that work. This applies to South Africa, but is relevant for the thousands of fishing communities facing exactly the same dilemma. The steps are pragmatic, require discipline and an intergenerational approach. Reversing destruction does take time.
The first step is to declare no entry zones where fish can safely breed. Secondly, there is an absolute ban on fishing large female fishes with eggs. A yellowfin tuna needs 10 years to become fertile, and a 20-year old female produces millions of eggs. Everyone agrees to catch and release all mature females. Thus, the nets are replaced by lines. Each fish, lobster and abalone caught gets a tag with a GPS code when it emerges from the sea. This controls middlemen who cheat the whole system (both the large corporations and the traditional fishermen).
This program was implemented first in El Hierro (Canary Islands, Spain) and today fish density is ten times the average of Spain. The local fishing community, "La Restinga" looks like a higher-middle class town. The reversal is possible – provided one permits Nature to bounce back, just before its total collapse.
The ZERI Foundation (a network of 38 organisations) has accompanied fishing communities in Spain to ensure first their survival, and next their economic development with a strong identity. Now, the network of experts and entrepreneurs is committed to assist Rapa Nui (Easter) Island pursuing the same endeavors.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.