By Maia Nangle
The snoek run is a quintessential part of life in fishing communities on the West Coast and in the Cape Town metropolitan area. This bony fish, which has a distinctive taste due to the anchovies and sardines on which it preys, is consumed throughout the year, but particularly at Easter.
Although snoek can be caught year-round, it runs mainly from April until about July each year, drawing small-scale fishers in droves. Excitement mounts among the fisherfolk as they sense the arrival of the snoek; and when it is running, fishing villages such as Lambert’s Bay in the Western Cape come to life, with fishing boats teeming along the coast on a daily basis if the oceans allow.
The snoek fishery on the West Coast feeds a substantial informal and local market and the fish is an important source of protein in poorer communities. The snoek that is caught off the West Coast is usually sold to the Cape Town market through langanas (fish traders) who chill and transport the catches and sell the fish from the back of their bakkies.
However, from March 2020, small-scale fishers struggled under the Covid-19 regulations introduced by the government. Initially, the new rules stopped them from fishing and, even after an exemption was awarded to them to allow them to continue fishing, they continued to be prevented from undertaking their traditional livelihood activities and securing an income.
For example, although they were now licensed to fish, continuing enforcement of movement restrictions under night-time curfews prevented them from arriving at fishing sites in good time to set out to sea. At the same time, they were unable to find overnight accommodation at these sites due to restrictions on the hospitality industry, as well as the reluctance of those renting out local rooms who feared the spread of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the closure of restaurants and a ban on exports deprived the fishers of valuable markets.
This year, the challenges faced by small-scale fishers have decreased somewhat, although not as the result of any significant support from the government at the local, provincial and national levels. Since April, when the first snoek began to bite in Lambert’s Bay, there has been a good harvest, although the snoek run has now passed. Notwithstanding the negative impacts of the official Covid-19 restrictions which are still in place, the fishers have also experienced a far better year in terms of marketing and selling their catches.
Adopting a broad view, the hardships experienced in the Western Cape’s small-scale fishing communities under lockdown have highlighted the frailty of longer value chains and the insecurity of those forced to depend on them, particularly in times of crisis. Furthermore, the lack of official backing for the small-scale fisheries sector during the pandemic has indicated how the South African government prioritises and supports a food system dominated by commercial and corporate interests at the expense of informal, small-scale food producers and traders.
In seeking to forge an alternative to this approach, which has produced significant suffering among small-scale fishers, the focus should be on creating an enabling environment which can help to realise local food security and protect local livelihood activities.
The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is currently revising its implementation of its small-scale fisheries policy in the Western Cape. Small-scale fishing communities in the province have long been marginalised in the national food system and have struggled to benefit sufficiently from their traditional livelihood activities and local natural resources. Against this background, the DFFE should seek to prioritise these communities in its current efforts, and act to promote the resilience and sustainability of the small-scale fishing sector, recognising the important role it plays in creating jobs and ensuring local food and nutrition security.
Maia Nangle is a Project Officer at Masifundise Development Trust.
This blog has been produced with the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) which has funded a three-country study in Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa on “The impacts of Covid-19 responses on the political economy of African food systems”.
The research that informed this article is part of the African food systems and Covid-19 project supported by the IDRC. To learn more about this project, visit its page here: https://plaas.org.za/african-food-systems-and-covid-19/