Covid-19: Inland fisheries plead with minister for 'essential' status

Esmeralda Olivier and Thuys Pieters collect fish from a kraal at the bottom of the Vanderkloof Dam wall.
Esmeralda Olivier and Thuys Pieters collect fish from a kraal at the bottom of the Vanderkloof Dam wall.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

Thousands of subsistence fishermen who survive off catches from dams and rivers have been left off the essential service list, prompting concerns about their wellbeing during the coronavirus lockdown.

Fishing rights group Masifundise has asked environment minister Barbara Creecy to add “inland fisheries” to other fishing sectors allowed to continue operating in the interests of national food security.

The inland fishers support about 80,000 people, according to Masifundise.

In a memo to Creecy this week, Masifundise director Naseegh Jaffer said some of the fishermen had been blocked from fishing, notably at the massive Vanderkloof dam in the Northern Cape where there is a large subsistence fishing community.

“We have been receiving reports from some inland fishers who have been told by the SA Police Service and local nature and conservation authorities that fishers will not be allowed to carry out their fishing activities during lockdown and, if found practising fishing activities, that they will be prosecuted in accordance with the ... lockdown regulations,” Jaffer said.

“We note these reports with great concern as inland small-scale fishers play a vital role as food providers in their communities, especially in local rural areas.

“This means that they play a vital food security role in the context of the current national disaster, a time in which many rural people will have decreased access to food and nutrition, especially to animal protein and fats.”

Clarence Oliphant, Vanderkloof subsistence fishing representative- said fishermen were currently “sitting at home unsure what to do”.

He said the problem was compounded by poor communication between government departments, including water and sanitation which manages Vanderkloof, on the Orange River near Petrusville.

“It is a very difficult situation. If we can’t get a [positive] answer from the minister then I don’t know how we can put food on the table,” Oliphant said.

Creecy’s spokesperson, Albi Modise, said the Masifundise submission had not yet reached the minister. However, he said the department was working to ensure inland fishers received the necessary accreditation to sustain themselves.

“The department has already engaged with the department of water & sanitation officials in Vanderkloof and they agreed that the fishers must get necessary accreditation and they will give access,” Modise said.

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