Establishing an economically and biologically sustainable and viable inland fisheries sector in South Africa – pitfalls of ‘path dependence’


  • Mafaniso Hara Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape, P/Bag X17, Bellville 7535, Cape Town, South Africa



small-scale fisheries, developmentalist and welfarist approach, open access, over-exploitation, path dependence, South Africa


Small-scale fisheries play a significant role in livelihoods and food and nutrition security for millions of people around the world. However, these benefits are under threat, especially in developing countries such as in Africa, as a result of poor governance. The historical developmentalist and welfarist approach to management of small-scale fisheries in developing countries, dating back from colonial era, has resulted in problems of open-access regimes that usually lead to over-capitalisation, geographic spread of landing sites that makes it difficult to organise fishers for management activities, inadequate management capacity and poor funding of the sector. These lead to over-exploitation and degradation of fish resources, thereby negatively impacting the current and long-term benefits for small-scale fishing communities and society at large. Most countries that start off with such problematic fisheries management regimes and set on this path find it very difficult to reform the regimes. This article argues that South Africa needs to draw lessons from the mistakes of other (developing) countries in terms of the type of fisheries management regime governing small-scale fisheries, as it sets up and creates a new inland small-scale fisheries sector. Such ‘path dependence’ can set a country on courses of action and decisions that are extremely difficult to reverse and extricate a country from. There is no doubt of the need for more equitable distribution of access rights and benefits to inland fisheries for communities that had been excluded and marginalised under colonialism and apartheid. However, this has to been done without endangering the fish resources and in effect the very sustainable social-economic benefits that such reforms intend to achieve.


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How to Cite

Mafaniso Hara. (2022). Establishing an economically and biologically sustainable and viable inland fisheries sector in South Africa – pitfalls of ‘path dependence’. Water SA, 48(2 April).