Original Articles

Identification of subsistence fishers, fishing areas, resource use and activities along the South African coast


A description is given of the research undertaken to provide a broad overview of the distribution and numbers of people who are subsistence or artisanal fishers and their activities along the coast of South Africa, to assist in the formulation of management protocols and to refine the existing definition of subsistence fishing. In total, 200 people were interviewed during the study, resulting in the identification of about 147 fishing communities, an estimated 28 338 fisher households and 29 233 people who potentially could be considered as subsistence fishers. Most of these fishers were found on the East Coast, more than 75% in southern KwaZulu-Natal and the former Transkei. They live in both rural and urban settings and harvest a variety of different species from intertidal, shallow subtidal and nearshore environments. Intertidal harvesting was the dominant activity along most of the East Coast, followed closely by subtidal harvesting. Harvesting nearshore resources that require the use of a boat was relatively unimportant there. By contrast, harvesting of nearshore resources was the most important activity on the West Coast, intertidal and subtidal resources being of lesser, but equal importance. Fish, rocky intertidal invertebrates and sandy beach invertebrates are harvested by subsistence fishers around the entire coast, whereas estuarine invertebrates feature prominently on the southern and northern regions of the East Coast. Certain high-value resources such as oysters (mainly Striostrea margaritacea), rock lobsters Jasus lalandii and Palinurus homarus and abalone Haliotis midae are also taken. These are not usually consumed by the fishers themselves, but are rather sold to generate income, and the people undertaking these activities should more accurately be considered as small-scale commercial fishers than subsistence fishers. A high proportion of the fishers in the South-Western Cape make use of motorized vessels. Fishers there also range over longer distances than those in other parts of the country. In general, however, subsistence fishers tend to live close to their point of harvest, mostly within 10 km. These results are discussed in the light of existing perceptions about what constitutes a subsistence fisher, and some of the difficulties in identifying criteria to define subsistence fishers and in developing appropriate management strategies are highlighted.

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