Community fishing vs marine breeding

Cape salmon and kingklip may start disappearing from restaurant menus if linefish stocks continue to be depleted at present rates. Meanwhile, government is considering a suggestion that a crucial marine breeding ground be opened up to community fishing. Scientists say this would further impact on fish stocks.

The department of environmental affairs and tourism is considering a request to open the 80km-long Tsitsikamma marine protected area (MPA) to restricted subsistence fishing. The Tsitsikamma community, which has been lobbying government for the fishing rights, would have to comply with various conditions.

A source said that the proposal could restore some rights to local communities who enjoyed access before the park was unilaterally set up in 1964. Poverty reduction is a pressing concern for government, which has to weigh up social, environmental and economic needs. Fishing, as a small-scale industry, tends to employ poor and marginalised communities, which adds to pressure on the government.

It is considering opening access to 13% of the total area, or 10km, of the park. Fishing would only be allowed during the day and in designated areas, with a quota of five fish per day per angler. There would be limited experimental or trial access for a period of 15 months. Catches would have to be reported to monitors and littering must be avoided.

But scientists and environmentalists say that illegal fishing already takes place in the park and that the request, if granted, sets a dangerous precedent. It would also impact on line-fish stocks in adjacent areas. Local line-fish stocks have in many cases reached crisis levels, with most stocks below 5% of their pre-exploited levels, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Previous environmental affairs minister Valli Moosa declared that the line fishing industry was in a state of emergency.

The problem is a worldwide issue, with about 75% of global fish stocks either exploited at maximum levels, or overexploited, according to the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative.

According to research conducted by the WWF, the total economic value of the MPAs along the Garden Route is estimated at R421-million. Opening up parts of Tsitsikamma would result in an overall net estimated loss of R31-million. Relaxing protection would result in a 16% decrease in visitors, which translates to a direct economic loss of R4,7-million a year. But the value of fish extracted from previously closed areas was likely to yield a once-off value of only R4-million, before fish stocks were degraded to levels outside the park, WWF said. “These benefits would also be extremely short-lived, and it is estimated that the natural capital built up in these areas would be fished down in approximately 33 fishing days.”

The WWF estimates the value of the Tsitsikamma MPA in terms of reseeding fish stocks along the coast and supporting commercial line fisheries, at about R33-million. It is a crucial nursery ground for reef fish in particular.

“The Tsitsikamma National Park is South Africa’s oldest and largest marine protected area … the marine equivalent of the Kruger National Park and a major tourist drawcard,” the WWF said.

Alan Whitfield, research manager at the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity, also expressed concern. Line fish are mainly exploited by anglers, and are often slow-growing fish which take longer to replace. “Each individual fisherman on his own is not necessarily having a major impact, but it’s when you put them altogether.”

Whitfield said opening up the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing was analoguous to allowing impala shooting in Kruger. South Africa’s coastline is vulnerable to overfishing, and if Tsitsikamma was depleted, there would eventually be nowhere to restock fishing areas.

Monitoring is another concern. “It’s human nature that once one area is depleted, to move on to other areas. There is already illegal fishing in the park, and there has been for years. It’s already under pressure. The idea is that fishermen would monitor themselves which is an absolute joke.”

The Endangered Wildlife Trust said greater attention was needed in implementing existing environmental legislation to arrest marine degradation from pollution, coastal development and overexploitation.

“Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd states that the largest marine predator on Earth is now the cow, with over half the fish catch serving as fish-meal feed for domestic livestock. Domestic house cats are apparently eating more fish than all the world’s seals and about 50 to 60 marine fish are caught to raise one farm-raised salmon,” the EWT said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative has embarked on an education programme for hotels, to raise awareness of overexploited species. Both kingklip and Cape salmon, two of South Africa’s most popular line fish, are listed as under threat, but are readily available.

To download the Consumer’s Seafood Pocket Guide on which fish are environmentally safe to eat visit www.panda.org.za/sassi/downloads/pocket_guide.pdf

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