The end of the line

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A sad ending for traditional line fishermen.
A sad ending for traditional line fishermen.

I have a friend who is a professional fisherman but overnight he has lost the status “professional”. He has been fishing from Kalk Bay harbour, Cape Town, for over 40 years. He recently had a heart attack. A lot of it was due to putting his boat up on the costly slipway and spending a lot of money to refurbish the boat and fix up the engine so that his wooden commercial fishing boat is seaworthy.

Everything changed for him when out of the blue when and on 10 PM on 31 December 2013 the fisheries department confiscated licenses from over 300 traditional line fisherman whose families involvement in fishing go back for generations and dished them out as they saw fit.

It’s a tragic situation where thousands of traditional line fisherman all along the coast are now out of work, jobless. Millions invested in fishing boats and equipment are now sitting idle. Thousands of families have no income because the main breadwinner, the traditional line fishermen, have been robbed of their jobs.

I suppose from the fisheries perspective this seems like the right thing to do. It gives people who haven’t been in the fishing business an opportunity to enter the industry. It’s also probably well timed for vote-hungry politicians with an eye on the elections.

If you look at things from the point of view of the new entrance themselves, many would be pretty excited to make money from catching fish.

Who knows? In any legislation change there are going to be winners and losers.

The thing that really interests me is people who work in an industry or market for a long time don’t seem to think of upskilling themselves. Why is it that people can work for so many years in an industry but they seem to be oblivious of the changing circumstances around them? How come they don’t learn new skills?

I’m not pointing fingers. I’ve been there too. I also had my fair share of mistakes. What I’m talking about is people who don’t see the warning signs, try increase their skills or don’t diversify. Suddenly their livelihood is cut off.

If you think about it, it’s not only legislation that can be a risk to your livelihood but also technological obsolescence, demographic changes and simply trends that have changed in the market. Anything can be a threat or risk to your livelihood or business.

But it’s a lesson for all of us. Maybe if we’ve not been developing new skills, we might need to look into it. New skills whether for a craft, trade, engineering or professional services are all valuable for starting a new business or running one.

Yes, some might say that these line fishermen made so little money from their fishing because of the dwindling fishing stocks that are not being properly managed anymore that hey have never even had a chance to find opportunities to learn new skills. It’s a difficult one. This may well be the case for some of the older fisherfolk who could decide now to pack it in and not try anything else and live off their savings. For the young fisherfolk, they still have an opportunity to turn things around personally and move into new areas.

For those who are going into a new venture or doing something on their own such as starting a business from scratch, it would be worthwhile to try get a sense of how that industry or market will develop over the next 10 years or so. I know it’s very difficult to make predictions of this sort but when professions and markets can suddenly be shut off overnight with no compensation, no extended period for making alternative arrangements, no support for developing alternative skills and no regard whatsoever for human beings, then it pays to be sensitive to possible dangers lurking in the future.

Even so, for those smart entrepreneurs who can spot opportunities between the cracks and in the gaps, new possibilities will still be available. A smarter, sharper breed of entrepreneurs in the fishing industry have already started to develop opportunities for themselves. The money sometimes is not just in the harvesting, pulling up one fish at a time on a line. The food industry is expected to grow by something like 60% by 2030. Staying under the radar in h hard-working, difficult and dirty industries where you can do things faster and smarter and when no one can beat you in your game will offer rewards to entrepreneurs that are risk takers and have courage, work ethics and values.

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