Photo Essay: Kalk Bay’s fishermen

The Kalk Bay harbour community in the Western Cape has made headlines in light of recent controversies surrounding fishing licenses. Many permits have been revoked since the end of last year, leaving some fishermen with no source of alternative income. But despite the fact that small-scale fishermen earn a low income, they are committed to their trade. Their motto is, “One bite and you’re hooked.”



Shafiek Isaacs

” It’s about 10 years now that I’ve been a fishing buyer full time. It’s exciting for me. It’s different things every time. You meet different people, different customs, but most of all you learn to relate to other people. You learn how to communicate with different people in different ways, so it’s been fun for me. There’s a lot of different stories everyday. Everyday’s an adventure here. You have your on days and your off days, same like if you work in a company or stuff like that. But you see, here it’s like exploring. It’s a different diversity of life. You meet people that is less fortunate and then you meet people that is more fortunate than you, and you learn to interact with different types of people.” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs

Fish bunch

“We have people who come here everyday, like we have more fortunate people who come and buy the yellowtail and stuff like that. That’s a more expensive fish, like a 3 or 4 kilo fish will cost you R160, whereas a person that’s less fortunate would buy the bunches of fish which costs them like R15 a bunch but there’s five fish that’s on a bunch so that can feed a whole family.” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs

Crew member
“I know what the government did. In the past the fishermen that had the licence was one guy. So it was one owner, he owns the boat, he owns the licence and the crew catches the fish. He gets half of the share of everything they catch. Now why don’t they make it so that the licence goes to the crew, but then you make the licence bigger. If you have a 10 man crew, you make it a 12 or 14 man crew then they can take 4 extra guys onto the boat and teach them the skill of fishing. That’s job creation” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs
Solly Solomons

“I’ve been on the sea since the age of about 14. My grandfather, my father, me and all my brothers, my sons and their sons – we’re all fishermen. I’m the skipper. I’ve got to look after his [the owner’s] boat. The boat and the crew is my responsibility.

Whatever goes wrong on the boat, when the boat falls, I’ve got to save it.” – Solly Solomons

Fisherman fish

“Who benefits from the fish? We’re bringing in food to the land, to the country, but what are we getting? The majority of the fishermen are born poor, they live poor, they die poor.” – Solly Solomons

Fish from boat

“All that fish that fishermen bring out of the sea there means nothing to their lifestyle. The poor fisherman is shouting, ‘Why can’t we get a permit?’ But Sea Fisheries don’t know the fisherman. The boat owner’s name is there, and he’s a farmer, and a factory owner, and a doctor. He can afford to live without the permit. No fisherman’s name is there. That’s where the problem is. There’s no boat for them work on. The system there doesn’t accommodate the fisherman. Something must be done there.” – Solly Solomons


“You know what is hard for us? We go out to sea hey and we come back here and you get practically nothing for it.
And then we know for a fact that the one that buys it from us… they get much more.
I just give you one example. The other day we brought fish and they gave us R7 for it, and they sold it right there, right there in front of us, for R30 to the people.
You get R7, right, and then you must take that R7 and you must give half to the owner of the boat.
So what do you get?
You get R3.50 for all of us, and the one who bought it, he earns R23.” – Solly Solomons
“There’s nothing I can do about it when we don’t catch fish. We’ve got to just weep in our heart and feel sorry for the food that we don’t get. You’ve just got to stay and wait until the weather’s clear.
You know, nowadays, never mind if it’s winter or summer, you get two good days, and then you get four bad days.” – Solly Solomons
Fishermen working
“What affects the fishermen, affects us as well as langanhas [hawkers].
If he doesn’t catch fish, we don’t have fish to sell. It’s like a whole food chain.
If you look at this harbour, you can ask anybody standing there where does he stay.
I’m going to tell you, 95% of these are going to tell you they live in Retreat, Mitchell’s Plain, Valhala Park, Hanover Park, places like that.
And 5% of people on this harbour that work here is going to tell he lives in Kalk Bay.
So you see, the diversity… It’s not a small group making this harbour work. It’s different types of people, and different cultures and everything.” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs
Fish cleaner
“If there is no fish on this harbour the fish cleaner doesn’t have a job. So what happens is the fish comes out of the boat, I buy the fish, you come to me and buy a fish from me, ask him to clean it, he charges a R10 fee. But if nobody comes to buy fish he doesn’t make any money for the day.
If there’s no fish being caught, I don’t make money, I don’t come to work, so the fish cleaner doesn’t have work.
So everybody is depending on everybody.” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs
Kalk Bay
“We filled in this subsistence form, everybody made us promises, and they came back to us and said we don’t qualify because we are not part of the Kalk Bay community.
Do you have to be part of this community to make something?
This community doesn’t live from the sea.
This whole sea belongs to everybody.
Each individual in South Africa has a right to live out of the sea.
It’s a democratic right. That’s what we fought for.
Now why did we fight in the first place?
Why did our fathers and our forefathers fight?
Just to come back and have the same thing in reverse.
If you look at it from my point of view now, it’s like apartheid in reverse.” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs
Solly and hawker
“If I’m at home for a week I get sick.
I want to be at sea.
I don’t know what I’m going to do if I retire, and I must retire some time. we don’t want to be millionaires. We are happy with our work.
Even on a day like today when we don’t earn nothing.
We just want a constant decent price for the fish so then we know where we stand.” – Solly Solomons
Fisherman Kalk Bay
“This is a historical harbour.
Kalk Bay is one of the oldest harbours where black, brown and white people work together.
This was the only sea where the black people and the coloured people could come and swim.
Now government is taking it away.
Everything that’s historical and nice about it, they are slowly killing it off.” – Shafiek “Fikie” Isaacs
Fishermen sea
“We don’t get wages, or pension.
If you work in the factory, or for the government, you get pensions.
There are days that we go out and we don’t catch anything, we don’t earn nothing. But tomorrow comes again. Would you work for a boss and they don’t pay you? But we don’t catch the fish and we don’t get paid, but we go again tomorrow. I think that’s how dedicated the fishermen are.” – Solly Solomons