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31 Oct 2007 17:25
Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk still faces a court challenge from the abalone industry even though he backed down on Wednesday from a harvesting ban.
The ban, prompted by rapidly declining stocks, was to have come into effect on Thursday.
It would have halted all commercial harvesting of the threatened shellfish from the wild.
However, on Wednesday morning, as members of the South African Abalone Industry Association (SAAIA) gathered at the Cape High Court for an urgent legal challenge, the minister announced that the ban had been postponed to February 1 next year.
Total allowable catch (TAC) would be reduced substantially to 75 tons in the interim, and the fishery would close five months early, on January 31 next year, he said.
“I have applied my mind to the numerous pleas I have received from communities regarding the implementation date of the decision,” he told a media briefing in Cape Town. “Our decision today [Wednesday] will ensure that communities will over the festive season and the start of the new school term have some source of income.
“We will also use this opportunity to engage communities on the social plan to mitigate these impacts,” Van Schalkwyk said.
The department would continue efforts to clamp down on poaching and investigate a diving ban in certain areas.
Van Schalkwyk denied that the threat of court action had anything to do with the decision to postpone the suspension.
“I can’t speak for the courts.
But just looking at the legal basis on which we took the decision, I don’t think there’s any basis for any urgent or other application.
Andre Knoetze, the advocate acting for the SAAIA, said the association had, in the light of the announcement, decided not to press ahead with its high court application for “upliftment” of the ban.
However, it would serve the minister with revised papers on Thursday morning.
These would seek an interdict against the reduction of the fishing season and the catch, and what Knoetze said were changes to a policy that had in the past limited communities’ fishing to the coastal zone where they lived.
Now, he said, people were being allowed to fish anywhere.
“It’s going to become like a taxi war now,” he said. “It’s going to lead to bloodshed big time.”
The restrictions still did not address the issue of poaching, he said.
He said the association wanted Van Schalkwyk to revert to “the status quo of last year”.
The ban was approved last week by Cabinet, which also approved a “social plan” to mitigate its impact.
At Wednesday’s briefing, Van Schalkwyk said he would announce further details of interventions in the marine aquaculture industry at a subsistence fishing summit in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
“I remain of the view that the abalone resource is endangered due to ecological changes and poaching,” he said.
“This fishery is in a crisis and should be managed as an emergency. The closure of the abalone fishery is the right thing to do.”—Sapa
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