Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  24 May 2009

FISHING: Carnage In Our Oceans


Recent Western Cape Business News

ILLEGAL fishing in our oceans is vast and it is estimated that the value of fish stolen from our waters may be as high as R6 billion annually, which is perhaps greater than the total value of our entire South African commercial fishery.

So says Shaheen Moolla, a director of Feike, in a paper commissioned by the Institute for Security Studies, Cape Town.

The study was undertaken to get better measure on the illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing of marine resources in South Africa.

IUU fishing has been blamed for the collapse of the traditional line fishery, abalone and Patagonian toothfish stocks. More recently, IUU fishing has also impacted on the viability of South Africa’s largest fisheries, namely hake and pilchards. There are also increasing numbers of reports of an ‘IUU creep’ in the South African lobster and shark industries.

The South African hake fishery is the country’s most important and valuable fishery. Hake fishing can be undertaken by deep-sea trawlers, inshore trawlers, by hand line or by long line.

There are therefore effectively four separate fisheries, each subject to its own set of rules and regulations. Of the four hake fisheries, the deepsea trawl fishery is the most lucrative and important. The legal catch was worth an estimated R2.1 billion in 2006. The fishery employs slightly more than 9 000 people on boats and in factories. The hake fishery has traditionally been well regulated and well managed. The sustainable management of the South African hake deep-sea trawl fishery resulted in it being awarded Marine Stewardship Council Certification in 2004.

However, subsequent to the allocation of 15-year commercial fishing rights in 2006, the hake fishery has attracted the attention of a number of Spanish operators seeking to enter and control the trawl fishery. The dubious fishing practices of the Spanish coupled with the increasingly visible impacts of overfishing of hake in Namibia and the changing ecology of the Benguela Current, have sounded alarm bells, Moolla reports.

The South African hake trawl total allowable catch has declined from 124 500 tons in 2006 to 112 700 in 2007 and the projections are that the TAC will have to be reduced regularly in the near term. The reduction in the total allowable catch between 2006 and 2007 is estimated to have cost the industry between R200 million and R230 million.

In 2004, Marine and Coastal Management uncovered a massive pilchard poaching syndicate that operated out of Mossel Bay on the Cape South East Coast. The surveillance and subsequent investigations indicated that as much as 200 000 tons of pilchards were harvested illegally by a number of quota holders during one fishing season. The amount of 200 000 tons was equivalent to 50% of the pilchard TAC in 2004 and worth more than R600 million. In 2006, the pilchard TAC was slashed by 48% due to overfishing. The pilchard TAC is currently set at 164 436 tons, down from 400 000 tons in 2004.

IUU fishing of abalone stocks is perhaps the best-documented and most popular example of how a fishery collapsed due to poaching. Abalone is a popular target for poachers because of its exceptionally high demand in South East Asia, which is the destination for more than 95% of South Africa’s legally and illegally harvested abalone, as well as the farmed abalone stock.

Its demand in South East Asia is complemented by the fact that it is also a lucrative commodity in South Africa, where its sale pays for drugs, human trafficking for prostitution, counterfeit products and organised crime more broadly.

The poaching of abalone has rapidly increased: the demand for South Africa’s white-shelled haliotis midae escalated with the continued boom of both the Hong Kong and Chinese economies. Demand for abalone in Hong Kong, China and other South East Asian nations has increased by an estimated 20% annually between 2004 and 2007.

The growth of the South African abalone market in South East Asia has occurred against a backdrop of a collapsing total allowable catch for legal abalone right holders in South Africa and a stagnating abalone farming industry, which produces an average of 900 tons of abalone annually.

The legal and regulated South African abalone industry – both wild and aquaculture – could have marketed a maximum of 1 025 tons (shell weight) of haliotis midae to China and Hong Kong during 2006. However, it is understood that Chinese and Hong Kong consumers purchased approximately between 2 000 and 2 500 tons of South African abalone in 2005 and 2006.

These numbers are supported by anecdotal reports by South African law enforcement officials, conservation groups and members of the abalone industry that only about 10% of poached abalone is confiscated by South African authorities. Research undertaken by Feike during 2006 and 2007 shows that in 2006, South African authorities confiscated about one million units of abalone with a value of between R80 and R100 million, according to Moolla.

Shaheen Moolla is currently a director at Feike, a natural resources management advisory firm based in Cape Town. Prior to joining Feike in 2005, Moolla was Special Legal Adviser to the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (2003–2004) and Chief Director of Fisheries Compliance and Management at South Africa’s Marine and Coastal Management Branch (2004–2005).


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