/ 2 November 2007

Abalone on brink of extinction, NGOs warn

Those involved in the recent fierce debate over abalone needed to bear in mind the species was on the brink of extinction, major environmental organisations warned on Friday.

”We would like to highlight the fact that, at the centre of this issue, is a key biodiversity issue,” the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), Wilderness Foundation South Africa, the Botanical Society and global nature fund WWF-South Africa said in a joint statement.

”If we lose this species, it not only casts a shadow on South Africa’s track record of sustainable utilisation and environmental custodianship, but will also result in a complete loss of income for all those effected communities — forever.”

The statement follows Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk’s delaying a ban on commercial trade and harvesting of the valuable shellfish in the face of strong opposition from those with permits to do so.

The ban was due to have come into effect on November 1, but the minister has now extended this to February 1 next year to allow time for a rethink and further consultation with stakeholders.

The environmental NGOs said they supported the seriousness with which the minister had treated the issue, while acknowledging the importance of the resource to the almost 800 fisherman whose livelihoods depended on it.

”We also recognise that preventing the extinction of this species will not be achieved as a result of the ban alone. A comprehensive strategy focused on tightening customs and trade controls, law enforcement and improving compliance towards sustainable harvesting is essential.”

However, nowhere in the recent debates over the past week had adequate attention been paid to the fact that abalone was in crisis, and was facing imminent extinction.

”We would therefore like to suggest … that the crux of the matter, which is the imminent extinction of an endemic species due to rampant over-utilisation, is not overlooked as the next three months of consultation begin,” the organisations said. — Sapa