"ON THE LINE" - EDITORIAL FROM THE FOSAF CHAIR - ILAN LAX
Its late October, and the rains should have been here by now. Things up country are very very dry. Our usually green lawn is still struggling to find its verdant summer groove. All told, it looks like we may well be heading into another drought-induced rain-sparse summer.
Despite this, the fishing reports have not been half bad. This morning at a seminar I bumped into a well-known Durban fly-fisher and dresser. He intimated that despite the lack of rain and the unusually warm spring he and his fishing friends had enjoyed a good couple of productive outings on our Midlands still waters.
While we are in the throes of some peculiar weather (severe drought and damaging floods) we tend to forget that South Africa is a water scarce country and that drought cycles are more the norm than the exception. Some of what we are experiencing appears to be compounded by climate change.
One thing is for certain, is unlikely that the weather patterns will return to the "past normalcy" our parents and grandparents took for granted.
Turning to other matters, you must be wondering what has happened to our court case against DEFF (previously DEA). I recently had reason to meet the new Minister in an unrelated context. It was notable how open and receptive the Minister was. What a welcome breath of fresh air! This was a far cry from our long experience of some of her key officials. Our legal team are finalising the heads of argument to be used in the case. Once these have been filed at court, the department will have to do likewise. Thereafter, the case can be set down for a hearing. These preparations have been time consuming and onerous. I am indebted to our legal team and to Ian Cox in particular, for making sure that our case is well framed and will be well argued.
FOSAF recently lodged a submission on some aspects of the second draft of the National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy. I am indebted to Dr Leonard Flemming who undertook some useful research and drafted the bulk of the submission. While our submission mainly covered only a few aspects of the policy, there are still many aspects that require further attention and we will get to these eventually.
This policy will inform how recreational anglers and other user groups will be allowed to make use of South Africa's public freshwater fisheries resources. It is vital for the future sustainability of this important national natural resource that all user groups work together to find equitable solutions to some of the problems we are experiencing. South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Bearing this in mind and the enormous needs of ordinary people, it is not surprising that our freshwater fisheries is seen as a possible source of livelihood and subsistence by those in need.
The difficulties we face is that this resource is vulnerable and subject to a variety of pressures which include, pollution from mining, industry, sewerage and solid waste, habitat destruction, water abstraction and many others. The lack of proper and accountable governance and compliance implementation have exacerbated this toxic mix.
I have been increasingly alarmed by the levels of antagonism, suspicion and lack of cooperation that prevails in the sector. This is not helpful to finding workable solutions and alternatives or equitable outcomes.
These issues and the differing and at times competing needs and interests require a very careful balancing act to ensure the sustainability of this resource. I would suggest that FOSAF collaborates with other stakeholders and with government to ensure that these resources remain viable for future generations. We thus invite all anglers and other stakeholders to work together to pursue and achieve this end.
In a similar vein, the Aquaculture sector has experienced a difficult and arduous journey in its efforts to ensure a sustainable industry. This in the face of officials who appear unable or unwilling to accept the practical, workable and cost-effective alternatives being proposed instead of the unwelcome and misnamed Aquaculture Development Bill that is being forced upon the sector. Aquaculture is a vital component of the trout value chain. This is what has motivated FOSAF to participate in Trout SA's efforts to ensure our future supply of fish and through this, our fly fishing opportunities.
As you can see these are just a few of the many activities FOSAF is involved in, among the different aspects affecting our fly fishing. If there are other areas or issues you believe we should be helping with, please let us know. We would really like to support you where possible.
Our membership renewals will be going out soon. There are a number of options available to members: Individual membership at R300; Club membership through your club at R150 (We have ironed out with clubs some of the problems that emerged.); Silver supporter at R500; and Gold Supporter at R1500. See the full details on our website: www.fosaf.org.za/join.php or www.fosaf.org.za/supporter.php.
FOSAF is a voluntary and non-profit organisation. We would not be able to achieve what we do without your valuable support. We look forward to hearing from you.
I wish you all a great summer season's fishing.
Your's on the line
Broadening the mind: The role of the common fly-fisher (or water drinker) in river conservation.
"Travel broadens the mind" is the over-used cliché, but broaden one's mind it does.
I was recently privileged to spend time with a diverse spectrum of people involved in river conservation in the UK. Now, this was not some chance encounter in a pub. It was two weeks of immersion in the topic, travelling the length and breadth of the country, meeting experts, visiting sites and attending a conference. In that process I learnt a great many things. Some were applicable to us here in SA, and others were not. Most things I learnt were applicable in some way, even if it meant I had to do a great deal of filtering and out the box thinking in order to extract less than obvious lessons or thoughts that might be of use to me back home. Fine English ale was helpful in this regard.
Let me present to you here, a less than obvious train of thought that I have distilled in the weeks of contemplation that followed the visit itself. This is a train of thought with particular significance to us as fly fishers in South Africa.
Firstly, consider the Rivers Trust movement in the UK. Twenty-five years ago, a couple of well-meaning fly-fishermen, who held a passion for their beautiful tumbling trout streams of the west country (Devon and Cornwall), banded together to form The Westcountry Rivers Trust. That Trust would have been a small group of people with passion and concern for the environment. One of their founder members was Arlin Rickard.
Jump ahead 25 years and picture this: A conference in York, at which representatives of 63 rivers trusts, get together under the auspices of an umbrella organisation called "The Rivers Trust", which represents all 63 of them. Yes: 63 trusts...six 'O' plus three! The recently retired leader of this entire movement, but who delivered an address at the conference was ......Arlin Rickard.
The Rivers Trusts ... the 63 member trusts ... are NGO's who use an "ecosystem approach at a catchment scale", and are "delivery focused (Rather than campaigning)". These guys don't sit in conferences or the corridors of government talking about it ... they get it done. Consider these stats: In 2018 alone they:
Now consider a second factor. This is sensitive. A large number of people who I spoke to, and all of whom must remain anonymous, declared to me that the state's environmental agency (i.e. the government department for environmental stuff), is defunct. It is failing its people. It is in a downward spiral of failure and neglect and incompetence.
But, and here is the clincher: A lot of projects delivered by those rivers trusts, are either in partnership with, or involve, the same berated (albeit privately berated) government department. In the week after my departure an annual NGO awards ceremony crowned the same agency as a winner for one of its categories for a project it delivered on.
The Rivers Trusts and other NGO's have coined terms and started movements, like "Catchment sensitive farming", "Upstream thinking", and the "Catchment based approach". These same phrases, concepts and initiatives are used and adopted by the government agency, and in my visit, I never witnessed any NGO members holding that against the government department, or arguing as to the true originator. Instead they all remained focused on the success or importance of the initiative, and spoke about the issue at hand with passion and concern. Perhaps they politely shielded the visitor from this ugly side of things, but in two weeks of travel and discussions with people daily and across a spectrum of interests, the ugly political side never showed itself. Not even over a fine English Ale.
I was speaking with baby boomers. These are people, who's parents went to war for their country, regardless of which party they voted for at the time. Maybe that has something to do with it.
The other aspect to consider was that just about every NGO or agency I met with on these river conservation topics, had a flyfisherman in the room. They also, without exception, had non fly-fishers. There was a level of integration. Not only were NGO's not clamouring to be recognised as the founder for this or that, but neither were the fly-fishers who may themselves have been able to lay claim to the glory if they so chose.
Another aspect to consider: Without fail, the people I met with, be they governmental or not, all discussed how better to deliver on government policy. Yes: NGO's represented by people with furrowed brows, concerned about how better to deliver on government policy on behalf of their government, who, in their eyes has an agency who, for the most part, is unable to deliver. Non-delivery came up, but it was, in my opinion, secondary. The primary focus, topic of discussion, and driver of action, was how better to implement on government policy (in some cases how to improve that policy), for the good of the nation's rivers.
I even visited farmers, in a pair of "wellies", and watched farm advisors at work with these farmers, in the field, giving advice, listening, discussing, and delivering on some very practical initiatives.
Before my trip, I attended a catchment forum meeting here in SA. This catchment forum is meant as an environmental discussion group for ALL occupants and interested parties in the particular catchment. No fishermen were represented (until that point). No farmers were present. The chairman advised me that when they attempted to involve farmers, it became a government-bashing moan session and lost its shape completely.
We have a lot of work to do. When I refer to "we", I am referring to everyone who thinks a clean river is important. Farmers. Fly-fishers. People who drink water. Canoeists. The work that we have to do, is probably going to have to start with work on our attitude. From that can flow things like 556 river clean-ups, 561 km of improved riverine habitat, 323kms of fish migration passages unblocked, etc etc.
We have the dirty rivers. Many will argue that we have the defunct government department. We all participated in starting the "rainbow nation". Do we have the right attitude? Who is up for embracing what lies within the realm of possibility in the context of our beautiful rivers here in SA?
Can we remove our pre-conceived ideas and suspicions, and our fierce territorial nature, in the interests of our country's environment? I hope so, because I am of firm belief that the ONLY way to achieve rescue, preservation, and custodianship for our rivers and their catchments, is through four legged, Private / Public partnerships. That is partnerships between government, and NGO's, but also, and very importantly, a third element of a volunteering, donating, willing and concerned body of citizens and businesses. The fourth element is that of the landowners. As landowners we carry the burden of custodianship. What we do on our own properties ... the properties which we believe we own with consummate rights ... actually affects all those around us who breathe the same air and drink the same water, and as landowners we need to quickly appreciate that the days of affecting the land with impunity are over.
I have never been one for the dull job of strategising, and postulating and pontificating, preferring to spend my 'donated community time' doing something practical, but as I mature into this space, I realise how important the foundation is. My appeal is
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