For 62-year-old Winston Hull, the story of fishing on South Africa’s Kogelberg coast is intertwined with the story of his family and his community. Winston and his wife Mary are small-scale fishers who depend on marine resources for their livelihoods.
“We fisher folk – now I am talking of the real fisher folk – don’t have blood in our veins,” says Winston. “We have salt water in our veins. In my case I got it from my grandfather’s side.” WWF is working on a novel fisheries improvement project with small-scale fishers like the Hulls.
“It is a tough balancing act, but community development and marine protection need not be mutually exclusive,” says Mkhululi Silandela, small-scale fisheries officer with WWF-South Africa. “The trick is to get community support to combat overfishing.”
WWF has taken a grassroots approach, engaging 80 fishers from the fishing community in the design of a win-win project aimed at improving the status of the fishery on which they depend. The project encourages the community to take responsibility for sustainably managing fish stocks, while WWF’s partners in the seafood market are encouraged to create incentives for good fishing behaviour on the part of the small-scale fishers.
“Much has been written about the lack of understanding of how conservation efforts impact those communities that rely on the resources being protected,” says Silandela. “In the race to protect our dwindling natural resources, conservationists have often neglected the importance of including communities in the development of conservation initiatives.
“Given the historical dependency by the fishing communities on the ocean for their livelihoods and culture, it is not surprising that nature conservation efforts are often met with fear and opposition by the fishing communities.”
Among the interactive components of the project are personalized SMS communications and the publication of a newspaper called Die Visblik (The Fish Can), written in mother-tongue Afrikaans. This publication gives fishers an opportunity to learn more about the science of marine ecosystems and to tell their personal stories.
The project has developed an inclusive, long-term plan that addresses social and environmental challenges, and the aim is to expand the project to include more fishing communities. At the same time, many small-scale fishers like the Hull family have huge expectations of the government’s long-awaited small-scale fisheries policy, which WWF is supporting.
The alternative – a slow death for the local fishing community and culture – is just “unimaginable,” says Winston. “If you take me out of this bay, I might as well just stop breathing already.”