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Cape line-fishermen battle for survival

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Fishers say making a living as a line-fisherman has become near impossible, with new environmental laws and quota systems aimed at improving their lives having the opposite effect.

With local government elections in sight, fishermen from the fishing villages of Struisbaai and Arniston have urged for government intervention to improve their lives or face a situation where the traditional line-fishers become a memory.

Both beach towns are popular holiday destinations, but hidden behind the picture perfect image, are two fishing communities crippled by poverty, social ills and unemployment.

Bare kitchen cupboards are not an unusual sight in these communities, particularly during winter months when harsh stormy weather keeps fishers on shore.

Both communities are predominantly dependent on line-fishing quotas since they are prohibited from catching other sea species. But residents are optimistic about the latest round of fishing applications as fishermen eagerly await news if their applications to harvest crayfish and perlemoen are successful.

“We can’t harvest crayfish or abalone but outsiders from the West Coast, Cape Town and surrounding areas are allowed to come and fish here. There are no big factories in our village that can employ our wives and children, so if you come home empty-handed there’s nothing to eat,” Kat Grandfield said.

The Struisbaai fisher, who owns anold-style fishing boat called a “chukkie”, said high levels of poverty was evident in the living conditions of fishers in the region. Grandfield said his crew consisted mainly of fishermen older than 60.

Fishermen now want government to prohibit outsiders from coming into the area to harvest the resources, or at least create a “chukkie” friendly zone where only smaller chukkies are allowed to fish.

Struisbaai fisherman, Stuart Du Plessis, said while there had been positive changes in both communities, the infrastructure in Struisbaai Harbour had disintegrated.

“There are less then 15 chukkies that are still operational as commercial line fish vessels. Annually the small fishing village of Struisbaai is flooded by more than a 100 powerful commercial ski-boats that catch yellowtail and take it out of the community without investing a cent. The local chukkies cannot compete with these rich and powerful line fishermen,” he added.

Du Plessis said line-fishing right holders should be given the opportunity to transfer their fishing rights to modern ski-boats and only they should be allowed to work there.

Sameul Marthinus, 86, is one of the oldest living line-fishers in Kassiesbaai, a little village in Arniston. Marthinus reckons his life has improved over the past two decades and their fishing village has had a much-needed facelift thanks to the Cape Agulhas municipality.

“We have paved roads, where previously there were no roads at all,” he said.

Marthinus said the plight of the line-fishers of Arniston and neighbouring Struisbaai remained a painful tale.

“Our fishermen have always been the losers in the deal. When there’s fish in abundance, the prices suddenly drops because outsiders come and fish in our water, flooding the market with product. Our people still have to beg and bargain for better prices,” he said.

Marthinus, who owns his boat, admits the quota system had caused further hardship for many.

“Youngsters are unemployed, battling social ills, some with low levels of education and they fall into the clutches of crime. You have young girls walking with babies on their arms because with our freedom came social grants,” said Marthinus.

Arniston fisher, Gerald Swart, 60, said while local government authority services were delivering, the issue of unemployment still plagued their village. Swart said it would help the locals if people from other regions could only fish where they lived.

Another local said the fishermen of the area had been buried under laws which had outlawed most fishing communities, forcing many youngsters into a life ofillegal fishing.

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