Rehabilitating mussel beds in Coffee Bay, South Africa: Towards fostering cooperative small-scale fisheries governance and enabling community upliftment


Along the coast of South Africa, marine resources play a significant role in supporting livelihoods and contributing to food security in impoverished rural communities. Post-apartheid fisheries laws and policies have begun to address traditional fishing rights and development needs, and new management arrangements are being implemented. One such initiative has been the Mussel Rehabilitation Project in Coffee Bay, which piloted a resource rehabilitation technique at several over-exploited fishing sites. Mussel stocks in these exploited areas had dropped to under 1 % mussel cover, and during the project period, stocks increased to >80 % cover, supporting a sustainable harvest well above national daily bag limits. This stock enhancement was achieved only after the project had started to address social challenges such as the lack of local management institutions and the need to enhance food security. The project embarked on training and institution-building; it formed a robust community mussel management committee; and developed a local resource management plan, facilitating increased community participation in the day-to-day management of the resource. The project also saw the initiation of various ancillary projects aimed at improving food security and stimulating the local economy and hence alleviating pressure on the marine resources. Here we review this 10-year project’s outcomes, and present lessons for small-scale fisheries governance in South Africa and internationally. We show, through empirical experience, that balancing stock rebuilding needs in a context of widespread poverty and dependency on natural resources by a local fisher community can only be addressed through an integrated approach to development. Participation of resource users and a thorough understanding of the local context are imperative to negotiating appropriate small-scale fisheries governance approaches. We recommend that the implementation of South Africa’s newly minted Small-Scale Fisheries Policy should begin with bottom-up, demonstrative resource management measures such as mussel rehabilitation. This type of initiative can deliver short-term food security benefits and foster social learning towards sustainable and cooperative fisheries governance.

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  1. 1.

    The Wild Coast is situated along the former Transkei coastline: With the coming to power of the National party in 1948 the development of homelands began in South Africa, and over the following years, eight black homelands were established in the country. These were independent territories, with their own government and administrations, established mainly in underdeveloped areas with very little infrastructure. The Republic of the Transkei was established as one of such homelands on 26 October 1976; it remained independent until its incorporation back into the Republic of South Africa in 1994, after South Africa’s first democratic elections.


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The authors would like to acknowledge support from the Swedish Research Council, the National Research Foundation, the International Foundation for Science, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the SIDA and WWF South Africa.

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Correspondence to Gurutze Calvo-Ugarteburu or Serge Raemaekers.

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Calvo-Ugarteburu, G., Raemaekers, S. & Halling, C. Rehabilitating mussel beds in Coffee Bay, South Africa: Towards fostering cooperative small-scale fisheries governance and enabling community upliftment. Ambio 46, 214–226 (2017).

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  • Community upliftment
  • Fisheries governance
  • Mussel rehabilitation
  • Perna perna
  • Small-scale fisheries