African Journal of Marine Science

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Defining fishers in the South African context: subsistence, artisanal and small-scale commercial sectors

GM Branch, M Hauck, N Siqwana-Ndulo, AH Dye


Evolution of a new policy for the management of marine fisheries in South Africa led to the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 (MLRA). Among other innovations, this requires that management strategies be developed for subsistence fisheries. As a prerequisite, definitions and criteria are needed to identify and distinguish them. To achieve this, the Chief Director of Marine & Coastal Management (MCM), the authority responsible for
managing marine fisheries, appointed a Subsistence Fisheries Task Group (SFTG) to make recommendations about definitions and modes of management. The process involved successive surveys and consultations with fishing communities, communication with MCM, and a national workshop of all participants. This led to consensus about the following definition:

Subsistence fishers are poor people who personally harvest marine resources as a source of food or to sell them to meet the basic needs of food security; they operate on or near to the shore or in estuaries, live in close proximity to the resource, consume or sell the resources locally, use low-technology gear (often as part of a long-standing community-based or cultural practice), and the kinds of resources they harvest generate only sufficient returns to meet the basic needs of food security.

This definition builds on the facts that existing subsistence fisheries are usually: (1) local operations; (2) customary, traditional or cultural; (3) undertaken for personal or family use; (4) primarily for nutritional needs (though excess resources may be sold to ensure food security); (5) based on minimal technology; and (6) undertaken by people with low cash incomes. They are specifically non-commercial and non-recreational. The definition was designed to allow protection of the rights of these people and sustainability of the resources. While developing this definition, it became obvious that the definition of “commercial fishing” in the MLRA is also inadequate, and a new definition was developed. Commercial fisheries span a wide spectrum, and the SFTG defined “small-scale commercial fishers” as a distinct component that has not received adequate attention, and for whom specific management plans need to be developed. They are distinguished by living on or close to the coast, having a history of involvement with fishing, being personally involved in hands-on day-to-day running of their enterprises, operating with limited amounts of capital investment and low levels of technology, and employing small numbers of people.

Keywords: defining subsistence, fisheries management, subsistence fishers

African Journal of Marine Science 2002, 24: 475–487

AJOL African Journals Online