Original Research - Special Collection: New Landscapes in Identity

‘I fish because I am a fisher’: Exploring livelihood and fishing practices to justify claims for access to small-scale fisheries resources in South Africa

Samantha Williams
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 3 | a6585 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i3.6585 | © 2021 Samantha Williams | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 March 2021 | Published: 18 August 2021

About the author(s)

Samantha Williams, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


In South Africa, claims for and access to natural resources are deeply embedded in people’s histories, identities and livelihood experiences. As in the case of land, access to and rights over fisheries resources is a highly contested issue where individuals and communities have equated such rights with human rights. This article considers the role of cultural and livelihood experiences of fishers in articulating claims for accessing fisheries resources. Individual and oral history interviews conducted with fishers and community members demonstrate how historical (and contemporary) organisation of the fishery contributes to local livelihoods and social cohesion and how formal management practices have not considered these rights. This study discusses how fishers as a community have endured systematic dispossession and exclusion, framings of fisher identity, livelihood activities and how cultural significance of the fishery takes centre stage when claims for access to fisheries resources were made. This article concludes by highlighting how fisher activities, identity and social relations, which are embedded in this system have challenged formal management approaches and altered a trajectory in fisheries management and conservation planning.

Contribution: This research draws inspiration from the Ebenhaeser community on the Olifants River estuary to demonstrate the intrinsic value of this traditional small-scale fishery to this community. This study contributes to the discourses on complex social-ecological systems and how social values underpin these systems.


fishing; access; claims; identity; values; livelihoods; South Africa


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