Development and conservation are often considered to be a juxtaposition of one another. However, it is seemingly becoming of more and more importance that the two can go hand and hand. This is where the word sustainable comes into play. In 2015 a new sustainable development agenda was established and pledged by many countries, South Africa being one. This included a set of sustainability goals that were established with the key message of ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all.
Sustainability is a whirlwind concoction of three different spheres;
Biological, this is inclusive of the environment as a whole, from the fish, the birds, the invertebrates, the water, the plants to the dolphins and seals.
Economical, this incorporates the businesses, from the holiday homes that get rented out, the shops that get shopped, the tour companies that take anglers fishing or rent out boats, the restaurants that feed us, the real estate market, to the municipality and police employed to maintain services: these are all economy generating enterprises, increasing the GDP of the area.
Social or Community, accounting for those who rely on the resource, those who use the Breede to receive compensation, comfort or solace be it spiritual, educational or simply a nice place to put up your feet.
Sustainability is the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. Quite a mouthful. The English language is fraught with jargon and big definitions much like this. As an English speaker living in a largely Afrikaans society I am often tickled pink by the proverbs and sayings that often leave a lot to the imagination when being translated (and that works both ways, ‘Gee my hare op my tande’ had me particularly stumped). When writing this article, one such proverb ‘Charity begins at home’ popped into my head.
The phrase, although not biblical, might as well be, given its age, and is relatively open to interpretation or translation, as may be the case. In this instance, let us consider home being the birds in your garden, the plants in your street and importantly the estuary on your doorstep. In this instance too let’s consider charity being that little bit of extra care given to the birds, the bees, the fish, the mud-prawns and so on and so forth in your little bit of environment, your jewel of the Southern Cape, the mighty Breede.
‘Charity begins at home’ reads for me that caring for the Breede begins with us, all of us.
Delving into the history of proverb I learned that Sir Thomas Browne coined the phrase we know and love, however prior to that John Fletcher came close to it in ‘Wit without Money’ circa 1625 with ‘Charity and beating begin at home’ – playing perhaps on not only the change and contribution one may make but also the regulation. In 2012, I conducted a study of Eastern Cape recreational anglers and compliance. The study considered the notion of the social norm theory, that our behavior is influenced by the perceptions or misconceptions of how our peers think and act. There is often a gap between actual behavior and perceived behavior. For example, we often perceive or think that others are breaking the law and that misconception can sometimes mean we excuse our own unsavory behavior, even if we know it is wrong. We might excuse non-compliance with the notion that everyone else is doing it.
Flip that on its head, what if our misconception or what we think, is that what everyone else is doing is actually being compliant? Are we not more likely to then do the right thing ourselves?
Whilst compliance absolutely requires monitoring the reality in the South African context (an extensive coastline and sub-standard economy) is that it is simply not feasible to be everywhere, all the time. As a result, the effectiveness of the compliance that is provided leaves us unsatisfied and disheartened. How can we improve compliance with regulations that will ultimately mean more fish, for all, for longer, without the use of regular compliance checks? Can we change our attitudes? Can we change the attitudes of those around us? How do we foster a positive change in our behavior?
Another ridiculous English phrase comes to mind ‘You can’t flog a dead horse’, perhaps the answer lies in our youth but importantly the youth requires guidance from their experienced predecessors.
There is opportunity for transformation, it requires personal modification and a want for change.
However, I would be foolish to say it is not already happening. My time in Witsand has taught me a lot and I have been fortunate to share conversations with the men and women who have grown up living on and loving the Breede. Their knowledge is extensive and invaluable and their stories speak of an evolution in fishing habits and attitudes. Each angler has their own moral standing and personal beliefs. It is encouraging to hear stories about sons who only practice catch and release, and fathers who are influenced by this, families who only catch what they can eat or who are regular taggers contributing to the knowledge base. On even the darkest days, these stories spark inspiration for the protection of this amazing river system and I am grateful for the knowledge shared and the willingness to do so.
So perhaps the future does not depend on the youth, but those that have learnt, have adapted and have experienced and in their ability to teach us. Perhaps it is the existential crisis of my late twenties speaking but I still consider myself a youth and it is certainly up to us to listen. Listen, learn and contribute. Nelson Henderson can be quoted as saying,
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”.