18 years on the Sokhulu Mussel Harvest Project Thrives
What began with a single programme to control the harvesting of mussels has leapfrogged into an entire community programme that speaks to the wise harvesting of all sea resources along the KZN coastline.
Eighteen years ago the once-abundant mussel stocks on the coastline north of Richards Bay at Sokhulu were threatened with depletion. Years of strip-harvesting by the resident community had threatened this.
But the inauguration of Ezemvelo’s Sokhulu Mussel Harvest Project not only spawned an enduring community-driven operation that safeguarded this resource but also sponsored a wide ranging community upliftment programme stretching along the entire KZN coastline to include subsistence fishers as well.
The overall benefits in terms of education, training and engagement with stakeholders beyond their own communities, is self-evident.
The ‘Buhlebemvelo’ Sokhulu Mussel Project began in 1995 by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (then Natal Parks Board). Today, some eighteen years on, the resource continues to be managed sustainably, a wonderful success story that speaks to the enduring importance of engaging communities in managing their own needs for the long term.
Over this period, the Sokhulu community has enjoyed an annual off-take of about 5000kgs of mussels from the Dingini and Nyokinani sites (give or take annual fluctuations).
Aside from providing them with their traditional protein, the project has spawned a critical insight amongst them into how to manage a programme centred on the principle of sustainable utilisation. Much of this has to do with the Sokhulu Intertidal Co-Management Committee that represents Ezemvelo’s District Conservation Officer as well as community representatives and the monitors selected from the community.
What started out then still exists to this day. Many of the original members of the Sokhulu committee are still there and the community monitoring programme remains functional. But its greater impact lay in kick-starting a far broader community subsistence programme that extended from mussel harvesters to line fishermen.
At about the time of Sokhulu’s inception, a Subsistence Fisheries Task Group was formed, that was later driven by Dr Jean Harris, head of Ezemvelo’s Scientific Unit. Within the structure of the then, new Marine Living Resources Act of 1998, subsistence fishers were acknowledged. So the net of overall monitoring and engagement with communities was cast much wider to include such fishermen.
Community committees were established, each electing their own representatives to take up the ‘exemption permits’ being offered by Ezemvelo to allow them to fish on a sustainable basis. And today there are more than 1000 line fishers operating within this overall ‘co-management’ structure.
By 2000 the Sokhulu model had been rolled out along the entire KZN coastline (except Maputaland). A Subsistence Fisheries Implementation Unit was formed and now we have some 128 community monitors employed to collect data from small-scale fishers where they work both inside and outside of protected areas.
Along our entire coastline, there are now 16 co-management partnerships operating with small-scale fishing communities. As a result of this, seven people have been employed in the Small-Scale Fisheries Management Unit.
A greater good has grown from this. It lies with the training and education that Ezemvelo has subsequently offered all these monitors. They have gained insight from the courses offered them, such as fisheries management and fish identification given by SeaWorld’s training centre at the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI).
They attend an annual Monitors Workshop. The co-management committees also participate in exchange visits to other fishing areas for a broader insight.
Proposed 5 year Plans include:
||‘Ezemvelo’ Small-Scale Fisheries Unit appointed as the implementer for the new small-scale fisheries policy.
||Increased salaries for Fisheries Awareness Monitors
||Skills training for Monitors, Fisheries Awareness Monitors, Small-Scale Fisheries Extension Officers, Project Administrator and Data Capturer. These include advanced fisheries management, leadership skills and GIS training
||Employment of Monitors to ensure all fishing on the coast for 2014/15. (Roving creel surveys are done where Monitors walk up and down fishing zones to find fishers and collect information)
||Dept. of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) met with Small-scale Fisheries Unit and fisher community representatives in November to communicate the revised 5 year implementation plan. Identification of small-scale fishing communities will commence soon.