South Africa’s small-scale fisheries sector is a highly contested and politicised domain. On the face of it, fisheries managers play a simple role: they determine sustainable harvest levels for key fish species and allocate rights to fishers in such a way that these harvest levels are not exceeded. Part of this process involves regulating when and how fishers may operate by setting and enforcing restrictions on gear, quotas and seasons. However, South Africa’s experience has clearly shown that fisheries governance is anything but a neutral administrative exercise. The questions of who should be permitted to fish, and how much they should be permitted to harvest, are intertwined with issues of social justice, power and historical grievance.