Most Poachers Are Only Small Fish in an Ocean Where Policy Is the Real Shark

Article excerpt

In today's article in our series, Mariam January, a researcher on the Governance of Africa's Resources Programme of the South African Institute of International Affairs, argues that poachers are often just the victims of poor fisheries policy.

Poachers are not the core problem in the management of South African marine resources, it is poor policy. This poor policy effectively turns ordinary traditional fishers into poachers, and traditional law enforcement strategies are failing to curb the problem.

Traditionally, the way in which national parks and game reserves were declared did not take cognisance of the existing land uses and utilisation of wild fauna and flora by communities living in proposed parks. Thus, upon declaration, people were evicted from their ancestral land and were forced to alter traditional land use patterns. Failure to do so resulted in being branded as poachers and persecuted for continuing to eke out a meagre livelihood.

There is a similar pattern in the present-day fisheries sector. Fishers have been let down by the post-apartheid dispensation; despite progressive environmental laws, the situation for poor coastal communities has worsened.

Access to resources they have historically harvested has not materialised, and there is mounting evidence that the people who were meant to benefit from the rights allocation processes did not. Fishers have thus been marginalised further through systematic denial of access rights.

Post-apartheid fishery legislation, the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA 18 of 1998), is aimed at:

l Transforming the fishing industry by increasing black ownership in the commercial industry and also providing access to marine resources to poor indigent fishing communities.

l Ensuring sustainability of the marine resources.

l Ensuring economic stability of the existing commercial fishing industry.

Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), the national agency responsible for fisheries management, was tasked with transforming the fishing industry without "rocking the boat" - an extremely difficult task, exacerbated by MCM's lack of institutional capacity.

MCM, previously known as the Sea Fisheries Institute, was historically a research institution with a staff complement of primarily natural scientists, who are now tasked with performing managerial functions, for which they are often ill-equipped. This managerial lacuna led to highly contested rights allocation processes in 2002 and 2005.

There is still scant recognition of the deep flaws inherent in the previous rights allocation processes. Thus far, the only recognition of the glaring inequities resulting from the rights allocations of 2002 and 2005 was when the NGO Masifundise took the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to court in 2006, resulting in an out-of-court settlement in May 2007.

Part of the settlement was to redraft the poorly-written subsistence fisheries policy in a manner that effectively engaged all the relevant stakeholders.

The subsistence fisheries policy was to be finalised by the end of March 2008 and, in the interim, MCM initiated interim relief permits as a measure to provide access to marine resources to those fishers who have been disadvantaged by the previous rights allocation processes. This was put in place as part of the court settlement. …