Inland fisheries in South Africa are poorly developed and fish populations in many inland waters are under-utilized (McCafferty et al. 2012). Although the primary purpose of South African impoundments is to supply water for domestic and agricultural use, there has been an increasing realization that their fish populations could make a contribution to food security through the establishment of capture fisheries (McCafferty et al. 2012). Historically South African dams have primarily been utilized for recreational fishing purposes. Many of South Africa’s inland rural communities do not have a fishing tradition and there is a lack of an institutional framework to facilitate managed and sustainable/equitable access to inland fish resource (McCafferty et al. 2012). With the lack of an inland fisheries policy at national level, provincial governments have been the driving force in the development of inland fisheries in South Africa (Field & Rouhani 2013). The absence of an equitable inland fishing governance framework with defined user rights has resulted in growing unmanaged/unsustainable fishing practices and conflict between resource users (Britz et al. 2015). A significant institutional change was the designation of the inland fisheries mandate to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) which announced in 2012 that it would create an inland fisheries policy and programme (Britz et al. 2015). In the mean time, until the inland fisheries policy is completed, it is suspected that interest in developing inland fisheries will continue to increase to address major national policy objectives, which include food security, economic empowerment, optimal economic benefit from water, and poverty eradication (RSA 1998a, 1998b).
For rural communities to receive sustained benefits from inland fisheries it is necessary to obtain estimates of potential sustainable fish yield (Potts 2003). The estimation of sustainable harvest limits are only possible in the presence of an already established fishery. In such a situation, where catches and catch-rates have been monitored over time, the population dynamics of fish stocks can be modelled using the most appropriate stock-assessment methods. However, due to the lack of commercial inland fisheries, and therefore the lack of long term catch data, the estimation of sustainable fish yield is not possible. Estimates of fish production require reliable estimates of population numbers, biomass, size structure, growth and mortality (Allen, 1971) and this involves intensive and extended experimental research programmes. The development of new inland fisheries in most South African impoundments is therefore partly constrained by the data-limited nature of its fish resources. Therefore the need for experimental research catches to generate data for stock assessment and the estimation of sustainable harvest levels.
The Vanderkloof Dam is the second largest (133 km²/13 300 ha) and longest (114 km) water body in South Africa and was built as part of the Orange River Scheme. The main aim of the scheme is to provide a solution to chronic water shortages and to generate hydro-electricity. The dam is primarily used for irrigation but also supplies the urban requirements of Koffiefontein, Ritchie, Jacobsdal, Petrusville, Keurtjieskloof and Vanderkloof (DWS 2014). The electricity generated at Vanderkloof Dam feeds into the Eskom National Grid to supply power for peak and emergency demand periods, as well as base load energy when excess water might pose a flood risk (DWS 2014).
The Dam is used by the informal Vanderkloof Angling Club (VAC), Vanderkloof Boat Club (VBC), local recreational fishing and kayak tourism establishments, other water sport enthusiasts and a number of subsistence fishers. Most of the recreational use of the Dam is relatively informal with no national affiliation of any clubs. The VBC has approximately 132 members who mostly use the Dam in the summer months (C. Badenhorst pers. comm.). In addition, recreational angling is popular at the Dam. This includes bank angling and light boat angling for species such as common carp (Cyprinus carpio), sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus), mudfish (Labeo capensis), moggel (Labeo umbratus), smallmouth yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus) and largemouth yellowfish (Labeobarbus kimberleyensis). The Dam is primarily used during the December and April holidays where a number of recreational users travel from and around the country (DWS 2014). To a lesser extent, some recreational users also travel to the Dam on weekends. The majority of the land surrounding the Dam is used for conservation purposes. There are two nature reserves on the Northern Cape side of the Dam (Doornkloof and Rolfontein Nature Reserve) both of which are managed by the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (NC-DENC). Access and suitable areas for subsistence fishing are very limited at Vanderkloof Dam. Nevertheless, a few subsistence fishers from Keurtjieskloof, Petrusville and Luckhoff occasionally travel to the dam to harvest fish. Subsistence fishers from Petrusville are currently allowed access to fish at a suitable site in the Rolfontein Nature Reserve. Subsistence fishers also utilize a small area above and below the dam wall.
Previous studies has indicated that fish stocks in the Vanderkloof Dam has great value as an alternative protein source for rural communities (Allanson & Jackson 1983; Britz & Hecht 1997). The utilization of fish resources in the dam may also accrue economic benefits for small-scale commercial harvesters (Allanson & Jackson 1983; Britz & Hecht 1997). The Rural Fisheries Programme has recently completed a pre-feasibility study and has found that there may be an opportunity for rural community fishermen (Field & Rouhani 2013). This could create an income and also provide a form of protein to a number of families. In addition, the recent Vanderkloof Dam Final Resource Management Plan indicated that a small-scale commercial capture fishery may be a possibility for socio-economic development in the area, but that the economic feasibility and biological sustainability of such a venture need to be assessed (DWS 2014).
The principles of fisheries management are well established. It is widely recognized that the long-term sustainable use of fish resources, which promotes the economic and social well being of fishers, is the overriding objective of fisheries management (Weyl et al. 2007). The development of new inland fisheries at major water bodies like Vanderkloof Dam requires the development of management plans and must be guided by operational protocols and an institutional environment in order to ensure biological sustainability and optimization of economic benefits for local rural communities (Weyl et al. 2007). Decisions on resource allocation should be guided by national policy, although at present, the lack of an inland fisheries policy is a major stumbling block for sustainable inland fisheries development in South Africa (Ellender 2010). Abrahams (2000) suggested the development of new fisheries in large impoundments such as the Vanderkloof Dam should involve initial experimental operations, trial periods of fishing, appropriate research and monitoring.
The Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (NC-DALRRD) wishes to investigate the potential of small-scale commercial fisheries at the Vanderkloof Dam. In order to make an informed decision it was decided to implement and assess the success of experimental research fisheries. The goals of experimental fisheries are to test their economic feasibility and obtain enough scientific information about fish resources in order to determine biologically sustainable catch and effort levels. Only if proven to be biologically sustainable and economically feasible, will information generated lead to recommendations for the development of Fisheries Management Plans (FMP’s) for the structuring of subsequent small-scale commercial fisheries in line with Government’s objectives for inland fisheries sector development. As DAFF is currently developing the Inland Fisheries Policy it is suggested that the Vanderkloof Dam EFMP process be used as a practical example for the development of a structured governance framework to assess the potential of sustainable small-scale inland fisheries in South Africa.