Original Articles

The process of developing a management system for subsistence fisheries in South Africa: recognizing and formalizing a marginalized fishing sector in South Africa


Subsistence fishers were first recognized as a formal fishing sector in South Africa when new fishing legislation, aimed at redressing past inequalities, was enacted in 1998. Little information was available about these fishers, their activities, and the resources upon which they rely. Recognizing the imperative to gain an understanding of the fishers and to consult broadly, the national agency responsible for the management of marine living resources, Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, appointed a Subsistence Fisheries Task Group (SFTG) in December 1998 to provide advice on the implementation of appropriate management systems for subsistence fisheries. This paper describes the process followed to formulate recommendations that were presented by the SFTG to MCM in February 2000. The activities of the SFTG fell into two categories: research aimed at identifying subsistence fishers and gaining an understanding of their activities and socio-economic profiles; and consultation aimed at ensuring that the needs and aspirations of fishers and the experience of local managers were incorporated. Research included both field-based studies and synthesis of information about comparative fisheries elsewhere. Consultation took the form of local interviews and focus-group discussions, meetings with fishers and a national workshop. A pivotal activity was the development of a clear definition and qualifying criteria for subsistence fishers. A significant outcome was the identification of a separate small-scale commercial sector, previously erroneously lumped with subsistence fishers. Needs of fishers and problems identified during the process provided the basis for recommendations in the following areas: definitions, assessment and categorization of resources, management systems, communication mechanisms, application and allocation procedures, capacity building, compliance, research and monitoring, and funding and staff required for the management of this new sector. An evaluation is made of the opportunities presented by the SFTG process, constraints experienced and lessons learnt, giving important insights that are applicable to other similar processes, yet seldom documented in formal literature.

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