National Geographic : 2014 Dec
Southern African seas 77 miney moe. If you didn’t shout loud enough, you didn’t get a quota.” Fishing communities split into factions— established fishing families on one side, oppor- tunists on the other. “It was divide and rule,” said van der Heyden, himself a fourth-generation fisherman. “ The government fostered the indi- vidualistic approach, and as a result the resource suffered and the communities suffered.” If traditional fishermen had been given recog- nition, he said, they could have worked with the government to set rules for sustainable harvests. Instead, they were bullied and sidelined, and now they feel no sense of ownership. That MPA in their backyard? It’s not theirs, it’s the state’s. Change is afoot. Communities have begun making the case that closed areas infringe on their constitutional right of access to food. That argument has gained legal and political traction, and pressure is mounting to rezone some MPAs and open no-take areas to fishing. Marine scientists urge—beg—the govern- ment not to do this. If you open one MPA, they say, the rest will fall. Fifty years of fisheries and conservation gains will be wiped out in a matter of months. It used to be said, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.” Today a fisheries biolo- gist would add, “But only if you preserve the fish’s spawning population.” Bruce Mann, a marine scientist whose research helped lead to the establishment of South Africa’s largest MPA, Pondoland, in the eastern Cape, explained how protected areas perform that role. “MPAs function like a bank account,” he told me at the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban. “You invest your money, and you have the security of knowing you’ve always got it there. But you also get some interest—a little bit of spillover you can live off.” By that logic, fishermen who poach in an MPA are at best squandering their capital, at worst rob- bing the bank. Why would they do that? To find out, I drove 80 miles north of Cape Town to Langebaan, a sinuous saltwater lagoon on South Africa’s wave-pounded west coast. Langebaan’s sheltered marshes, sandbars, and turquoise blue shallows are an important fish nursery and refuge and a feeding habitat for hundreds of species of birds, from falcons to flamingos. Oom (Uncle) Billie Smith took me fishing for harders, the South African mullet. Harders have been netted here since the 1600s. Most are salted and dried to make bokkoms—fish jerky. Oom Billie has fished for them all his life. A small outboard powered Oom Billie’s heavy open dinghy, or bakkie, across the lagoon to a sheltered spot where he payed out his net. It was a calm day, and he wasn’t confident of much of a catch. He likes to fish when it’s blowing upwards Mozambique’s plan to build an industrial port complex within the Ponta do Ouro marine reserve threatens some of southern Africa’s richest coral reefs—seen as dark shadows off the coast.