Remembering the 2010 Langebaan Statement: A guide for better Marine Protection by Small Scale Fishers

By Anna James and Taryn Pereira

Last week marked the third celebration of MPA day in South Africa. The social and political histories of Marine Protected Areas hold important lessons for ocean decision making and so in this blog we would like to revisit and remember a significant historical moment where fisher organisations and Small Scale Fishers proposed ways to disentangle marine protection from social harm.

In 2010 small scale fishers got together at a national workshop in Langebaan around the pertinent question “How can we be protected from protected areas”? This workshop was organised by Masifundise Development Trust and supported by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). It was attended by 39 participants including people living in or adjacent to MPAs. It also included non-governmental representatives and government officials from the directorate responsible for MPAs in the DEFF, SANParks and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. This workshop took place as the first MPA policy and the small-scale fisheries policy were under development. It was an opportune moment to build collaboration between officials responsible for implementing MPAs, and small-scale fishers.

This meeting resulted in the Langebaan Statement which holds a radical and ambitious imagining of marine protection in which small scale fishers play a key role. This statement is an existing guideline that all MPA managers, marine conservation scientists and policy officials should read. The meeting held a tribunal type session in which members reported on the harassment and repression they faced due to MPAs and by associated authorities. This should have marked a significant moment of listening and acknowledgement of the negative social impacts of MPAs that continued after 1994. Those gathered at the meeting proceeded to draw up principles for better management of MPAs, MPAs that would be built on the practices of participatory democracy, co-management and a deep form of equality amongst South African coastal users.

The beginning of the Langebaan Statement. Follow the link in the text to read the full statement

Since the Langebaan statement was made 13 years ago, there have been ongoing human rights violations inside Marine Protected Areas, including regular harassment, arrests, violence and murder of fishers pursuing their livelihoods in their own customary territories – see Masifundise’s post from this week reporting on some recent events in MPAs. No MPA policy was released at the time, despite promises. There is no co-management happening in any of South Africa’s MPAs. Preferential fishing areas for small scale fishers have yet to be established. MPAs continue to be expanded into the customary territories of small scale fishers, and into ocean spaces where small scale fishers have been granted rights under the SSF policy to fish for species in those waters, without consultation or consideration of these fishers. And, at the same time, rampant extraction and pollution of the ocean is taking place all around, and even inside of, these marine protected areas where small scale fishers livelihoods are restricted. Small scale fishers have in fact been actively standing up to resist large scale oil and gas exploration and extraction that threatens ocean and climate health, even while they are restricted from carrying out their livelihoods in MPAs in the name of ocean health.  

Fisherfolk, and social science researchers working with fisherfolk, have presented significant evidence for how MPAs have had negative social impacts for those communities that live adjacent to them. Marine Protected Areas have continued into post-apartheid times without grappling with their histories of dispossession and marginalisation  (Sowman et al. 2011).The situation is such that people who live most directly with our coastline – small scale fishers, customary rights holders, indigenous people – have been and continue to be “deliberately silenced and preferably unheard” (Roy 2004) in their cries against the current paradigm of “marine protection”. Small scale fishers are asking that we take marine protection more seriously than is currently possible through MPAs, through questioning the extractive impacts of oil, gas, karpowerships, mining, pollution and industrial fishing, by recognising that a healthy ocean is one in which small scale fishing identity and culture is protected, and calling for us all to develop a relationship with our ocean that is socially and ecologically just.