Photo Credit: Screengrab / Coding for Fishermen

New innovations could be what helps save small-scale fishermen in South Africa… and a new South African documentary “Coding for Fishermen” sheds light on the struggles and fixes.


Western Cape, South Africa (20 August 2020) – Seafood is one of the most traded global commodities, with South Africa’s West Coast Rock Lobster (also known as lobster or crayfish) being one of the highest in the industry.

The closure of borders and global markets due to the pandemic has crashed an entire industry that small-scale fishermen relied on. These closures have brought already vulnerable small-scale fishing communities to their knees in a growing sea of poverty and associated social problems.

When the South African documentary was filmed, it hadn’t taken into account the possible effects of a global pandemic. Coding for Crayfish was filmed during the 2019/2020 lobster season before the pandemic hit South African shores.

The crash has only further highlighted the problems within the industry and pushed already poverty-stricken fishermen, even further. But there is hope on the horizon and it all comes from the use of new technology that is easily accessible for the fishermen.

This is detailed below and in the actual documentary. You can see the trailer for the documentary below and should you wish, you can watch the full-length documentary here.

The Story of traditional fisher David Shoshola – and thousands of small-scale fishers in South Africa – is more relevant now than ever. The lobster value chain in South Africa epitomises the glaring contradictions inherent in our capital-intensive globalised food system. Historic over-exploitation, a failed and now slow recognition of traditional fishers’ rights, combined with strong market forces feeding an illegal industry, have resulted in a crisis in this fishery, where many have advocated for fishery and/or market closures.

Coding for Crayfish follows the efforts of fishers in a small community on the West Coast of South Africa, who have co-designed and embraced simple but integrated technologies to develop their own Community-Supported Fisheries, connecting directly with a local market, thereby re-imagining a shorter, transparent and equitable supply chain that can assist with efforts in fisheries rebuilding.

Once the traditional food for working-class and poor coastal communities, lobster has for decades been a high-value export for the industrial fisheries sector. During the apartheid years in South Africa small-scale, predominantly black fishers were not permitted to harvest and sell in their own right, but harvested for white-owned companies that exported lobster. Recreational fishers were allowed to harvest a small quantity for their own enjoyment, and for many wealthier South Africans, summer holidays are synonymous with a crayfish braai (barbeque).

Following the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, small-scale fishers hoped that their access to marine resources would be recognised. However, control of the lobster value chain remained largely in the hands of the established industry that centralised processing and export. In 2007, the small-scale fishers finally won the support of the Courts in forcing the Department of Fisheries to grant them an interim permit to harvest lobster, pending the finalisation of a new policy for small-scale fisheries. This interim permit system, while certainly well-intentioned, played into the hands of the industry that continued to control the processing and sale of lobster. Small-scale fishers became price-takers in a sophisticated, export-oriented fishery, while ordinary South Africans no longer had access to lobster at an affordable price.

For the past three decades, the industry has exploited the growing global appetite for lobster and over-catching became a familiar, albeit hidden, component in South Africa’s lucrative lobster exports. In the past decade, however, the lobster value chain has increasingly become entwined with the illegal abalone industry mixing in with the toxic combination of illegal drugs, weak fisheries monitoring and enforcement and high levels of corruption. Marginalised small-scale fishers have been easy prey in this environment and significant numbers have been steadily drawn into over-catching and under-recording practices that enable the export and local sale of a greater quantity than is legally recorded. There is hope that a new Small-scale Fisheries Policy for South Africa, currently being implemented, will turn the tide.

The ability to trace seafood and account for its journey ‘from hook to cook’ is a critical element in our ability to transform our food system. Without knowing where and how food is produced, we cannot carefully craft a new food system, one that values and supports sustainable sources of food, cares for the people who labour to create or harvest this food, and that strengthens human and climate health. thereby enabling communities to build resilience to pandemics and other global crises. It is towards this economy of care that ABALOBI has, since 2015, co-designed Information and Communication Technologies in the form of mobile apps and cloud-based systems with small-scale fishers.

ABALOBI is now an African-based, fisher-driven social enterprise with global reach. Our mission is to contribute towards thriving, equitable and sustainable small-scale fishing communities in South Africa and beyond, through the joint development of technology. Our approach focuses on achieving tangible milestones, driven by a suite of mobile apps, that relate to seafood traceability, fully documented fisheries, fair and transparent supply chains, and community cohesion and entrepreneurship as important precursors to launching longer-term ecological improvement actions associated with a transition towards ecological sustainability. Read about our work in South Africa and elsewhere in our 2018–2019 Impact Report, and engage with our integrated approach to socio-economic and ecological change. For a specific overview of how our organisation is playing its part during the pandemic read here for our response and here for an account of our pivot in order to secure small-scale fisher livelihoods.

Globalised food systems are now facing scrutiny in a context where no one is able to take their access to and supply of food for granted. Across the globe, consumers are increasingly having to turn to local producers and markets to source their food, and the prevalence of food insecurity is visible in the long queues of people streamed across our screens. The disruption of our food system as we have come to know it is tangible and calls for this crisis to be used to transition us to a more sustainable food system are being heard in many corners of the world. As South Africa implements its Small-scale Fisheries Policy, in line with the UN-FAO Small-scale Fisheries Guidelines, we invite you to watch David’s story here and navigate to our call to action on

Sources: Coding for Fishermen
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About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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