Plans to open up parts of Tsitsikamma — South Africa’s premier marine protected area — to recreational fishing appear to have been shelved for the moment.
The proposal drew criticism from environmental groups such as the WWF, which called it a ”parochial and political decision to appease highly vociferous local stakeholders”.
But this week Deon Nel, WWF’s aquatic unit manager, was a much happier man. ”We believe the proposal has been rejected. The status quo of the area will be maintained and this is obviously the correct decision.”
Mava Scott, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, denied that a final decision had been made on Tsitsikamma. He said the decision is the prerogative of the minister of environmental affairs and tourism.
Meanwhile, in a reply to a question in Parliament about fishing rights in Tsitsikamma, Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk also said ”no decision has been taken to allow fishing in the Tsitsikamma marine protected area”.
Access to marine resources in Tsitsikamma has been a controversial issue since the Seventies when communities living around the park started to demand access to marine resources, Scott said.
Nel said the Tsitsikamma National Park is South Africa’s oldest and largest marine protected area and described it as the marine equivalent of the Kruger National Park.
”The park provides a breeding reserve for reef fish that reseed adjacent line-fishing areas,” he said. ”This service is made all that more important due to the absolute failure of traditional management of line fish in adjacent areas.”
There are 19 marine protected areas in South Africa at present. Only two of these areas are no-take areas — areas where no fishing in any form is allowed — and Tsitsikamma is one of them. In the other 17 areas limited angling, mostly from the shoreline, is allowed.
Scott said that in the Robben Island area abalone fishing is allowed because it has proved to be sustainable and in the St Lucia marine protected area small-scale fishers who use eco-friendly catching methods are allowed to fish.
”The local folk are permitted to fish on an exemption basis and not on rights, which are yet to be allocated,” he said. ”In multiple use areas marine ecotourism activities are allowed, such as scuba diving.”
Scott said that in the case of the Dwesa-Cwebe marine protected area in Transkei, where communities applied for a permit for subsistence fishing, permission could be granted if it can be determined that it is sustainable.
Nel said the WWF considers the case of Dwesa-Cwebe to be different to the Tsitsikamma case because the community wants to fish to put food on the table, not for recreational purposes.
If Dwesa-Cwebe receives fishing rights, it will be the first time the government will allow subsistence fishing in a marine protected area.
”There are no subsistence fishing rights anywhere in South Africa. A policy that would have been a basis for such is under development and fishing does take place, such as in St Lucia, but on an exemption basis,” said Scott.
He said fishing stocks can be protected by limiting the number of individuals setting out to fish at any given period or area and regulating the fishing methods, periods, species and minimum fish size.
A recent WWF report found that line-fish exports from marine protected areas in South Africa were valued at R33-million. In 2004 South Africa committed itself to a process under the World Parks Congress of protecting 20% of South Africa’s marine areas, but Nel said that at present only 9% of South Africa’s coastline is protected.