Economic challenges develop in Hawston's fishing community

(MENAFN) In Hawston, nearly every household boasts a boat in its yard, a poignant reminder of a bygone era when the ocean teemed with abundance, and fishing was a way of life. However, a closer look reveals that many of these boats lie dormant, their hulls perforated with grass as they stand witness to the economic struggles plaguing the community. The root of this decline can be traced to shifts in the market for South African abalone, a prized sea snail in East Asia, and an unwitting catalyst for decades of upheaval in fishing communities along Africa's southern coast.

Once abundant and a local delicacy known affectionately as "perly," abalone fishing in Hawston was a cherished tradition. However, the surge in demand for this fist-sized sea snail led to profound changes, pushing the village's traditional fishers to the brink of extinction or, in some cases, turning them into unwitting criminals. Raphael Fisher, a native of Hawston, vividly recalls his childhood spent diving for abalone in the rocky coves and learning the ropes of fishing on his father's boat. The allure of being a "perly" fisher was once the aspiration of every boy in Hawston.

Yet, a harsh reality unfolded over the last 30 years as poachers descended upon the coastal waters, depleting the South African abalone to unprecedented low levels. These poachers, driven by the lucrative market where they could fetch USD50 per kilogram, forced the government to enact a complete ban on abalone fishing initially. Subsequently, strict quotas were imposed, granting only a meager allowance of 120 kilograms per year for small operators like Fisher. This restriction drastically altered the once-thriving fishing industry, leaving many without their livelihoods.

Fisher reflects on the profound impact, stating, “The fishing has all been taken away. It’s totally different now. They took the bread out of people’s mouths.” The dire situation has not only prompted a decline in economic opportunities but has also given rise to a different kind of poaching—one driven not by vast profits but by the pressing need to put food on the table. This coastal community, once synonymous with abundant marine resources, now grapples with the complex intersection of economic decline and environmental crisis, as the tale of South African abalone fishing continues to unravel.



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