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2017-05-08 | News

Can Canadian fisheries management work for South Africa?

A South African research economist recently returned from a five-month sabbatical to British Columbia where he explored whether Canada’s approach to managing river salmon, and to a lesser extent sturgeon, could be replicated successfully for in-shore coastal fisheries management here.

‘The Canadian approach to these resources has been heavily influenced by pre-existing treaties with Native American communities,’ explains the University of Cape Town’s associate professor Tony Leiman with the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU).

This model for fisheries management allows aboriginal communities restricted rights to the salmon resources in rivers, or stretches of rivers, that fall within their territories. The state’s only involvement is to grant the communities those rights, and to give technical support and advice. Co-management has also become increasingly important in sparsely populated coastal areas.

This contrasts with SA’s current approach to managing its in-shore marine fisheries, which are also an important source of livelihood and culture for ‘artisanal’ fishing communities. In SA’s model, the state manages the resource, and issues permits and fishing rights to allow access. Such permitting systems may be general, or restricted to specific stretches of coastline, depending on the species involved. Restrictions on gear, minimum allowable fish size, seasonal closures, and the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, are also used to control exploitation of the resource. But without community participation these risk simply diverting effort rather than reducing it.

Co-management has become increasingly common globally, and there is some talk of it being attempted with SA’s in-shore fisheries, where traditional fishing communities have a historic link to the resource, explains Leiman.

But South Africa’s context is very different to what Leiman observed in British Columbia.

‘Here, our fishing communities aren’t homogenous, and they aren’t tribally based. Here, you might have a community that’s been fishing a stretch of Western Cape coastline for 300 years, but more recently might have seen some in-migration of people from the Eastern Cape, for instance, who now settle and live there,’ Leiman explains.

The fisheries ministry has recognised this, but dealing with it is not simple, Leiman adds.

Contributing to the potential instability which this creates, is the fact that if a resource is well managed, and fishing stocks are abundant on a stretch of coastline, reverse migration becomes a potential issue. Families that left an area could be induced to return - this is particularly problematic given the involvement of urban gangs in the lucrative smuggling of lobster and abalone. 

‘This can be a fundamental source of instability in managing a fishery. British Columbia doesn’t have this, because the rights are invested in a homogenous, historical tribe.’

Allowing communities to police their own resource can also put them at risk. In the South African context, the link between poaching and organised crime means that if communities start to enforce restrictions on accessing the fisheries stocks, they could be at risk of conflict with poachers or gangsters.

‘In a community where the numbers of poachers is high, asking senior community members to police their own resource could set them into violent conflict with gangsters.’ 

This warrants serious reflection, and in this context might mean that the current regulatory approach through permits and Marine Protected Areas might be the most appropriate policy approach to managing SA’s in-shore fisheries.

In-shore fisheries are fairly easy to access, and therefore policing the resource can be difficult. It can be accessed with small boats which can be launched easily from the beach or from slipways, and on-shore line fishers and divers can also reach it without much difficulty. Off-shore and deep sea fisheries are harder to access: getting out to sea needs bigger and more robust fishing vessels, which require larger, formal harbours. This allows for easier monitoring of fish stock use and adherence to permits.

Leiman says his research while on sabbatical, based at the University of Victoria from July to December 2016, raised some interesting questions about community-level fisheries management, which he hopes to analyse more deeply once he writes these up in a research brief. His preliminary thought is that Canada’s community-based fisheries management approach will not translate well into the South African context.