What Is the Coastal Justice Network?

Our story

The Coastal Justice Network is a growing network of small scale fisher leaders, environmental justice organizations and researchers responding collaboratively to a range of injustices along the South African coastline. This new formation builds on several decades of work by small-scale fishers and their partner organisations towards realising social and ecological justice in ocean governance. At the onset of COVID-19 lockdown, the Coastal Justice Network emerged from this ongoing and collaborative work, with a particular focus on support for self-organising and strategic networking amongst small scale fishers. Despite long years of struggle, social, historical, economic and environmental injustices along South Africa’s coastline persist, and have deepened as the push for economic expansion through the Blue Economy is intensified. We have worked collaboratively to respond to offshore oil and gas expansion, lack of proper public participation in marine spatial planning, small-scale fisheries policy failures, water crises in coastal communities, COVID lockdown related oppressions, human rights violations in marine protected areas, coastal mining expansion, blocking of small-scale fishers’ rights by industrial fishing associations, and other issues. 


Environmental justice




Human rights activists


Civil society organisations


Small-scale fishers leaders


Climate justice movement

Our vision

Our vision is to facilitate the development of a solidarity based social movement for coastal justice that brings together environmental defenders, traditional and small-scale fisherfolk, scholar activists, scientists, lawyers and artists, to respond to injustices felt along our coastline. The solidarity practice is guided by the principle of supporting self organising amongst fishers, and making visible plural knowledges that should be taken up in coastal decision making. It includes the sharing of information and facilitation of processes to enable meaningful engagement between policy makers and coastal peoples.

Currently, this network is being supported and coordinated by a group of scholar-activists based at Rhodes University, University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University and the Durban University of Technology, through the UKRI funded Global Challenges Research Fund project ‘The One Ocean Hub’. We work alongside small scale fisher organisations, including CLSA (‘the Collective’), the KZN Subsistence Fishers Forum, Coastal Links, and many SSF co-operatives (most notably with many of the recently formed co-ops in the Eastern Cape). We also work in collaboration with civil society organisations such as SDCEA (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance), Green Connection, Masifundise Development Trust, the Legal Resources Centre, Oceans Not Oil, the ICCA consortium and others.


Our vision is to facilitate the development of a solidarity-based social movement for coastal justice that brings together environmental defenders, traditional and small-scale fisherfolk, scholar-activists, scientists, lawyers and artists, to respond to injustices felt along our coastline. The solidarity practice is guided by the principle of supporting self-organising amongst fishers, and making visible plural knowledges that should be taken up in coastal decision making. It includes the sharing of information and facilitation of processes to enable meaningful engagement between policymakers and coastal peoples

Our Aims

We aim, as a network, to work towards an alternative to the extractive Blue Economy, in which marginalised coastal people, and the marine environments upon which they depend and for which they are the rightful custodians, are at the heart of ocean governance. This includes working to bridge the fragmented politics of small scale fisher movements, to enable greater mobilisation and organisation of these fisher workers, so that they not only realise their rights to a decent livelihood in relationship with the sea but that they are recognised and supported as leaders in the sustainable protection of marine resources.

We aim to bring fisherfolk and other traditional coastal knowledge holders together with the climate justice movement, as critical ocean custodians to voice their resistance to damaging mining, fossil fuel extraction from the deep sea, industrial fishing practices and other unsustainable activities.

The Problem

The rapid Blue Economy plan for South Africa, one of the “Operation Phakisa” initiatives, is currently carving up the South African coastline, with many citizens falling between the gaps, and critical stakeholders, most importantly the marginalised communities whose livelihoods, identities and customary rights are inextricably connected to the ocean, being excluded from meaningful participation in ocean decision making. This has been exacerbated due to COVID-19, with all ‘public consultations’ migrating online. This surge in blue economy capitalism follows years of dispossession, oppression and unequal access, costs and benefits for people who have historically lived with the ocean in cultural, spiritual and economic ways.

How Do We Do This?

Our main mode of communication and organising is via a funded Whatsapp group, as well as in-person meetings when possible, which we use to:

  • enable rapid response to rights violations;
  • connect activists to pro bono legal support;
  • offer support services (such as writing of press releases, writing letters to government officials, translating policies and plans, advocating for inclusion of community based activists in public consultations, developing pamphlets about current issues etc.); 
  • mapping of Blue Economy activities and sites of struggle; 
  • Develop social learning and public story telling processes to build solidarity and organisational capacity amongst coastal activists / small-scale fishers; 
  • Insider-outsider approach to governmental engagement
  • as well as learning processes with researchers and policy makers to raise awareness and try to build solidarity with community based social movements.


The CJN was developed in response to the pandemic and related lockdowns. We add and contribute to formations that have been active for 30 years of post apartheid work to realise justice and reconciliation for fishers.

We work alongside small scale fisher organisations and co-operatives, to support their work and vision, and to open up opportunities together for improving participatory decision making, learning exchanges, organisational development, legal advice, and solidarity actions between these different grassroots organisations and others in the Coastal Justice Network.


We have identified the important need to work more closely with legal NGOs to seek ways of challenging and expanding the current legal frameworks for participatory decision making in the ocean governance space.

TRANSDISCIPLINARITY and reimagining the academy
Part of the challenge is that South African government departments and academic departments still operate in silos without having the complete set of tools to work across the complex coastal contexts. Another piece of work includes building productive and collaborative networks across research disciplines to that natural and social scientist can support each other in producing knowledge that is in solidarity with the coastal and ocean commons.

The Coastal Justice Network has the collective capacity to amplify the voices of marginalised coastal communities, particularly Small Scale Fisher Cooperatives, Customary Rights Holders and other coastal knowledge holders, through various methodologies and collaborative social processes. The ELRC has prior experience in facilitating numerous Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) stakeholder engagement processes and training initiatives. The ELRC has also facilitated several MPA public participation processes for WWF, DEFF and WIOMSA including MPA training and related WIOMSA Certification programmes. The ELRC has also supported the development of the Provincial and National Community-based Natural Resource Management guidelines for South Africa, and for other SADC regional management agencies.

In particular we can offer transgressive social learning processes to facilitate this amplification, such as our novel methodology “Empatheatre” (see www.empatheatre.com) which creates amphitheatres for empathetic social dialogue. The Empatheatre methodology facilitates an expansive and collaborative approach to public storytelling and public dialogue, and participatory policy practices. We are currently working on public story-telling processes related to issues around marine protected areas and their impact on coastal communities. It was our aim, prior to the pandemic, to perform this at the climate change COP in Glasgow in late 2021, as well as to the SA governmental Marine Spatial Planning working group. We are still aiming to pick up these public performances when possible, and in the meantime we are developing podcasts and low data ‘mobisodes’ that can be shared via Whatsapp, to advance public discourse around intersectional coastal justice issues amongst diverse audiences.

The international decision making spaces we aim to influence include the UNEP Environmental Human Rights Defenders programme – we are in conversation with them about including small scale fishers and communities affected by marine conservation areas in their consideration of and support for environmental defenders; the FAO small scale fishers (SSF) guidelines process – we have been engaging with them on how best we can use these kinds of voluntary international guidelines to hold the South African government accountable for the implementation of our national small scale fishers policy; and contributing to international discourse on best practices for inclusive and socially just marine protected areas, through the Convention for Biological Diversity framework and the UN-Oceans ‘Ocean Decade’ fora. Through the One Ocean Hub, we have access to a number of international environmental and human rights processes, and we are able to facilitate the participation of community based activists and fisherfolk, to be able to speak directly into these international decision making spaces.

Furthermore, we are able to expand this solidarity work both regionally and internationally with other organisations and networks in the global South. Through the One Ocean Hub research network we are working closely with organisations in Namibia and Ghana, who are also exploring similar questions around public participation, inclusion in ocean decision making, and responding to injustices of the past and present with regards to human rights abuses of coastal people.