At the interface : marine compliance inspectors at work in the Western Cape

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Western Cape fisheries are heavily contested. Primary concerns in the contestations are over access to marine resources, which have been regulated through the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998. At the centre of these conflicts, is the figure of the marine compliance inspector, whose task is to enforce the state’s version of nature onto the collective of resource users. This thesis, based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork alongside inspectors of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Fisheries Branch in the Western Cape, explores the everyday human interactions on which the implementation of marine resource law depends. Exploring interactions between inspectors and resource users, the dissertation seeks to contribute to the task of reimagining fisheries governance. Drawing on ethnographic material deriving from participation in inspection duties; observations of fishing behaviour; conversations with inspectors, resource user and marine resource management officials; and analysis of texts such as relevant legislation and job descriptions, I argue that the issue of non-compliance in marine fisheries in the Western Cape can only be partially understood by the framework offered in extant South African compliance scholarship, which has focused largely on the motivations of resource extractors, or the formulation of law and policy. Given that compliance functions are part of the wider social spectrum of contestation and that the compliance inspectors are the interface between the government of South Africa and its fishing citizens, the study explores the real effects of state-citizen-nature contestations on environmental governance, and presents evidence in support of an argument that the design of the job of marine compliance inspector itself needs to be re-conceived. While compliance is a central feature of fisheries management, the performance of its personnel is taken for granted as the simple implementation of institutional policy, in a number of ways. Efforts to address conflicts will fall short of the goal of providing solutions if the assumptions about nature and humanity that current marine resource legislation embodies are not questioned, and this will exacerbate existing suffering in the ecology of relations between state, science, public and marine species.

Includes bibliographical references.