African Journal of Marine Science

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The ‘fishery’ in South Africa’s remaining coastal stonewall fish traps

LV Kemp, GM Branch, CA Attwood, SJ Lamberth


Ancient stonewall fish traps along the southern coast of South Africa, known locally as ‘vywers’,  have both cultural and historical significance.  Most have been degraded through neglect. Only two sets of vywers are actively maintained and fished, but without legal sanction. We surveyed historical and present-day fishing techniques and  catches in the remaining vywers at Stilbaai and  Arniston. Fishing takes place on pre-dawn, new-moon spring low tides. Fishers have replaced traditional spears with monofilament gillnets to remove fish from the vywers. Catches were and still are dominated by harders< i>Liza richardsonii, but occasional large harvests of elf Pomatomus  saltatrix, white musselcracker Sparodon durbanensis, white steenbras Lithognathus lithognathus, dusky kob Argyrosomus japonicus and galjoen Dichistius capensis are a conservation concern. There is also concern that if the illegal fishers are stopped, that the last functional vywers and the historical fishing practice will also vanish. In the interest of preserving this coastal heritage, we propose a compromise that will allow the fishers to continue with impunity but without threatening the conservation of coastal fish.

Keywords: archaeological fish traps; fisheries management; historical fishing; sustainable fishery; vywers

African Journal of Marine Science 2009, 31(1): 55–62
AJOL African Journals Online