How COVID-19 outbreak affected S. African fishermen

24Mar 2020
The Guardian
How COVID-19 outbreak affected S. African fishermen

WEEKS before the first case of the new coronavirus was confirmed in South Africa, the fishermen at Steenberg's Cove had already felt the devastating effects of the outbreak.

In previous years, children would learn how to fish from their parents. These days, because of the dire state of the industry, people are more and more reluctant to have their children follow in their footsteps.

By Barry Christianson

A small fishing village in St Helena Bay, on the West Coast of South Africa, Steenberg's Cove is located some 150km (93 miles) from Cape Town.

Amid long-standing economic woes that stretch back decades, the members of the community in recent years have largely depended on small-scale fishing for their livelihoods, especially the four-month-long West Coast rock lobster (WCRL) harvesting season running from mid-November to mid-March.

However, the amount of WCRL allocated to the small-scale fishermen in the village decreases each year, falling to 64kg (141 pounds) in the current season from 86kg (190 pounds) in the year before, and resulting in a drop in income of more than $400.

According to Shamera Daniels, of the West Coast Rock Lobster Association, China imported 95 percent of South Africa's WCRL in the 2018-19 season.

But this year, as the coronavirus outbreak in China forced the shutdown of markets across the country, the small-scale fishermen at Steenberg's Cove were instructed by South African authorities to stop harvesting WCRL.

The members of the community found themselves without any income for more than two months. In order to feed their families, many defied the order and continued fishing at night for a fraction of the price they would otherwise be able to get.

To mitigate the effects of the crisis, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries then decided to extend the harvesting season for an additional three months. Yet, it remains unclear whether prices will bounce back and whether fishermen will be able to recover their lost income.

Top Stories