Original Articles

Socio-economic characteristics of gillnet and beach-seine fishers in the Western Cape, South Africa


Data collected by questionnaire and telephone surveys conducted during 1998 and 1999 are used to describe the socio-economic characteristics of inshore netfishers in the Western Cape. Approximately two-thirds of netfishers work or have worked in other fishing sectors and a further 6–50%, depending on the area surveyed, are retired. Very few (0–11%) permit-holders in most areas classified their occupations as netfishers and the majority claimed to make <5% of their income from netfishing. Estimated costs and returns to net permit-holders suggest that, in most areas, commercial netfishing at current levels of catch and effort is not economically sustainable in the long-term. Only Saldanha-Langebaan gillnetters and beach-seine permit-holders, on average, manage to cover their opportunity costs and make an economic profit. The lack of profits in other areas is compelling evidence that the net fisheries are at or beyond the open access equilibrium point, suggesting that effort reduction in the order of 60% is necessary if maximum economic yield is to be obtained from the fishery. The netfisheries provide part-time employment for approximately 2 000 crew in the Western Cape. Additional economic benefits and employment directly related to the fishery in the form of equipment and fuel purchases made by fishers, maintenance of fishing gear and the sale of fish are estimated to contribute at least R15 million to the regional economy annually. Between 42 and 76% of respondents felt that their catches had declined since they had started netfishing and most felt that no new permits should be issued. Knowledge of catch restrictions among respondents was low (53–73%), indicative of a lack of communication between management and fishers, poorly defined permit conditions and a lack of enforcement. Many fishers interviewed feel it is unfair that they are restricted to catching only low-value target species and do not adhere to the catch restrictions, even if they do know them. The importance of the netfishery for participants varies greatly between and within areas. In order to reduce effort equitably, current and potential new permit-holders should be assessed on an individual merit basis.

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