Fishing for best practices: The Environmental Evaluation Unit's Dr Merle Sowman (right) and Maria Hauck have edited a new volume on fisheries co-management case studies.
Dramatic headlines reporting illegal abalone poaching and over-exploitation of marine resources along South Africa's coastline have become commonplace in the media. According to Maria Hauck and Dr Merle Sowman of UCT's Environmental Evaluation Unit (EEU) many coastal and fisheries management strategies have been based on a response to these crisis situations.
Welcome news on this front is that the two have edited a new book, Waves of Change: Coastal and Fisheries Co-management in South Africa, one that provides an overview and analysis of nine local coastal and fisheries co-management cases studies. The keyword is co-management, a concept only just gaining ground in South Africa.
"Although there is plenty of rhetoric bound up in the South African constitution and legislation around the participation of groups and communities in managing natural resources like fisheries, progress is being hampered by a lack of capacity and resources in, and commitment from, government to embrace new, collaborative approaches to integrated resource management," Sowman reported.
"Furthermore, the authorities often want to see quick results and are often sceptical of long-term processes, so we need to change the thinking here."
Sowman and Hauck's coastal management research in this key area was sponsored by The Green Trust, a joint environmental initiative between Nedbank and the World Wide Fund in South Africa (WWF-SA). Quoted recently in Africa Geographic, they say this research is fuelled by the need to explore alternative approaches to resource management due to the "over exploitation of resources, an increase in illegal activities as well as other critical issues such as forced removals from land and growing tensions between conservation authorities and local communities".
The book, besides offering an examination of nine case studies, also outlines the concepts and theoretical underpinnings of co-management and examines the policy and legal framework governing coastal and fisheries resource management in South Africa.
Though the case studies offer valuable lessons, there is no one model of co-management for easy replication. The authors explained that each case depends on differing approaches, capabilities and the commitment of the partners concerned. Nonetheless, co-management presented the most promising solution to the problems encountered. They emphasised that as soon as government shifts its position from one of rhetoric to active support, things will take off. Ideally, a series of carefully selected pilot projects should be initiated across the country, that have government's full support.
The publication is well-timed. Sowman and Hauck are part of a team developing a coastal management programme for the Western Cape on the eve of new legislation around integrated coastal management (there is a new White Paper out and an Act is soon to follow). The EEU's work will guide the Province onto a more sustainable path in terms of how authorities will implement the recommendations of the White Paper; how it will plan and develop coastal areas, and how access will be provided to coastal users who rely on these resources.
The EEU has been building capacity in this area for many years and Sowman is something of an "old hand" in this field. She serves on a Task Team of the Benguela Current Large-scale Marine Ecosystem programme, specifically concerned with the artisanal fisheries sector.
Hauck's background and path to the EEU has been somewhat more convoluted. She completed her Masters degree in criminology at UCT in 1995. "I pursued an area of criminology, ecological criminology, which was just being explored in South Africa," the Canadian-born Hauck, explained. Hauck's Masters thesis was on abalone poaching at Hawston. Her pragmatic approach to alternative management arrangements drew her closer and closer to the EEU. Her involvement in the book stemmed from the realisation that there had to be alternatives to the predominantly "law and order" response to the situation. "We have to look at ways of establishing co-management and pursuing alternative methods of managing these natural resources."
Sowman, Hauck and staff in the EEU are steadily building "critical mass" in this area. Much work has already gone into propagating fisheries co-management and there are some big projects on the horizon. These include a planned collaboration with Angolan and Namibian institutions, to investigate artisanal co-management in these countries. "It should be interesting," Sowman commented. "Co-management can be a difficult concept in countries where democracy and participation are not broadly embraced," she added in reference to Angola.
On the home front, the unit is engaged in a project with the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), at the University of the Western Cape. Funded by the Norwegian government, the five-year programme will assist the South African government build capacity in the area of fisheries co-management, and hopefully introduce some "enlightened" ways of looking at resource management.