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Social Dimensions of Fisheries and Ecosystem Management


In the past 25 years fisheries policies South Africa was framed with expectations, hopes, and dreams of a better life for all – the political freedoms carefully crafted in the Bill of Rights and Constitution were supposed to protect the rights to access marine resources for those who eke out an existence to sustain their livelihoods and food security. Soon the development path for South African policies was strongly influenced by economic growth and trickle down thinking. In fisheries this has meant a continuation of an Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ) system to broaden resource access and to transform and reform the fisheries. Politics and economic interests determined the future of small-scale fisheries (SSF) through de-concentration and resulted in the concentration of the new entrants into the large fishing companies. A class action court case was launched to challenge this ITQ system and a new place for small scale fishers was created through Interim Relief (IR)permits and a participatory process in developing a new small-scale fisheries policy. Since the IR is situated in the ITQ system and community leaders were appointed as caretakers the small-scale sector is currently facing elite capture, rights grabbers, overfishing, and decreased allocations. Human rights narratives co-exist awkwardly with neoliberal policies – and research, policy and advocacy is needed to find the alternatives from within these narratives – even if it means compromising on key issues.

PLAAS Fisheries Research

PLAAS’s research in the area for the next five years will focus on the following questions:

  1. Why do allocation and fisheries policies tend to fail the most vulnerable and poor fishers? Is it the macro-economic framework of growth that also leads to elite capture of resources and information at community level?
  2. Social justice for Small Scale Fishers (SSF) narrative was popular for civil society movements and academics to garner support for the adoption and implementation of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) SSF voluntary guidelines. Through the Civil Society Mechanism(CSM), SSF aligned with land, tenure, and food movements. In the seascapes, the SSF guidelines are competing and even marginalised with the adoption of Blue Growth/Economy policies, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Rights-based fisheries. Critical scholarship used the ‘grabbing’ narrative to raise awareness of the tenure and access rights issues of SSF in coastal, lakes and marine zones. But what about Blue Justice (rooted in social justice) for SSF? Since, changes in the marine ecosystem are largely influenced by political positions or decisions, and it is difficult to divorce some of the environmental decisions from the broader political and economic space – clarity on how and where we situate the blue justice narrative as a concept and advocacy tool is crucial.
  3. Fish is the most traded commodity in the world and fraud, corruption, poaching, illicit trade, piracy, and slavery are all part of this sector. The notion of Illegal Unregulated and Unreported fisheries gained traction from many international agencies, regional bodies, governments as management and compliance tools. However, there is an awkward fit with small-scale fisheries – as the sector is often described as illegal and unregulated and does not  report their catches.  In recent years a fisheries crime paradigm has argued for a parallel approach with a stronger focus on the higher levels of fisheries crime (money laundering, corruption, fraud, illicit trade) while approaching  small-scale fisheries with more of a human rights lens.

Featured Publications

May 13, 2019 in Fisheries Publication, Food Systems Publication

Moenieba Isaacs (2016). The humble sardine (small pelagics): fish as food or fodder. (Agriculture and Food Security 5:27)

The group of small pelagic fish is the largest species group landed globally. A significant proportion of this nutrient-rich food is processed and lost to livestock feed, fish feed, fish oil, pet food and omega-rich vitamins. The nutritional importance of small pelagics as an easily digestible protein source, rich in essential lipids with fatty acids (EPA/DHA), essential amino acids, minerals…
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May 13, 2019 in Fisheries Publication

Moenieba Isaacs & Emma Witbooi (2019). Fisheries crime, human rights and small-scale fisheries in South Africa. (Marine Policy).

Marine fisheries play an important role in ensuring food security and providing livelihoods in South Africa, as in many other developing coastal States. Transnational fisheries crime seriously undermines these goals. Drawing on empirical research this contribution highlights the complexity of law enforcement at the interface between low-level poaching and organised crime in the small-scale fisheries sector with reference to a…
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April 26, 2019 in Fisheries Publication

A small-scale fisheries policy for South Africa

The Marine Living Resources Act, 18 of 1998 (MLRA), excluded smallscale and artisanal fishers who catch and sell fish to sustain livelihoods. Furthermore, it also excluded those involved in post harvesting and other activities like bait preparation, cleaning, processing and marketing. In 2002, small-scale fishers gathered at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to discuss fishing policy. This triggered…
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moenieba isaacs

Prof Moenieba Isaacs

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