(MENAFN) In the coastal village of Hawston, the landscape is dotted with boats, a silent testimony to a bygone era when the ocean provided abundant livelihoods. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that many of these boats lie dormant, their hulls riddled with holes and grass pushing through, untouched by the water for years. These vessels stand as relics, remnants of a time when the sea was teeming with abundance, sustaining the community through fishing.
The root cause of the economic downturn in Hawston lies in the shifting dynamics of the South African abalone market. This curious fist-sized sea snail, highly prized in East Asia, has inadvertently brought about 30 years of hardship for fishing communities along Africa's southern coast. Once plentiful and especially delectable, the demand for abalone led to a stark transformation in the village, pushing traditional fishers out of business or branding them as criminals overnight.
Raphael Fisher, a product of a fishing family like most in Hawston, spent his formative years diving for abalone, locally known as perlemoen or affectionately called "perly," in the rocky coves. Learning to operate his father's boat in his late teens, Fisher reminisces about the time when every young boy aspired to be a perly fisher, considering it the epitome of their ambitions.
However, the past three decades have seen a surge in poaching, as opportunists swoop in to exploit the lucrative abalone market. Each sack of snails translates to a substantial payday, fetching up to USD50 per kilogram. This uncontrolled poaching has led to a drastic reduction in the population of the endangered South African abalone, reaching unprecedented low levels, according to wildlife groups.
In response, the South African government initially imposed a complete ban on abalone fishing. Subsequently, strict quotas were introduced, granting limited rights to small operators like Fisher to catch a mere 120 kilograms per year. This allocation is a fraction of what was once a thriving industry, leaving many traditional fishers grappling with the economic fallout.
“The fishing has all been taken away,” laments Fisher. “It’s totally different now. They took the bread out of people’s mouths.” Consequently, a new form of poaching has emerged, not driven by the pursuit of substantial profits but rather as a desperate means to put food on the table for countless traditional fishers along the southern coast. Caught between the environmental impact of overfishing and the economic struggles of their community, Fisher, like many others, faces the tempting choice of engaging in poaching for survival in the face of a changing and challenging reality.
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