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Poaching brings abalone, rock lobster stocks to critical levels

Feb 28 2017 06:00
Liesl Peyper

Cape Town – South Africa’s stocks of rock lobster and abalone have dropped to critically low levels, primarily due to poaching activities. 

Professor Doug Butterworth, a mathematician at the University of Cape Town who does research on abalone and rock lobster on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), told members of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament on Friday that West Coast rock lobster levels are currently at only 2% of what they used to be and that there had been a 20% drop in numbers in the past five years. 

READ: Lobster crash erodes West Coast way of life 

Abalone levels are currently at 20% of former levels, with a 15% drop in the last five years. 

Provincial parliament members heard input from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the World Wide Fund (WWF) as well as fishing communities about the prevalence of poaching, especially in the Western Cape. 

According to Butterworth, the incidence of rock lobster poaching doubled in the last three years, while abalone poaching more than quadrupled since 2009 when the fishing of abalone reopened on condition of a 15% reduction in poaching activities. 

Abalone fishing is currently permitted at a total allowable catch of 50 tonnes per annum, but this could increase to 700 tonnes if all poaching stops, Butterworth said. 

West Coast rock lobster fishing is allowed at around 2 000 tonnes per annum, but could rise to 3 500 tonnes if poaching stops. 

Only 2.5% of rock lobster left to repopulate

WWF-SA marine programme senior manager John Duncan told members of the portfolio committee on economic opportunities that there is currently only 2.5% of rock lobster left to repopulate. “There’s not a lot you can take out. It’s like eating into the capital of your bank account.” 

As for abalone, he warned that that despite arrests of poachers and the confiscation of illegal abalone, poaching seems to be on the rise.

Desmond Stevens, acting deputy director general of fisheries at the DAFF, said in response to the submissions that the department has a “specific strategy” to deal with poaching, but pointed out that there is a criminal economy around abalone poaching specifically that requires collaboration with law enforcement agencies. 

READ: Organised crime in fisheries sector starts getting the attention it deserves

Asked how the DAFF deals with confiscated abalone, Stevens said the money recovered from seized abalone is ring-fenced to “deal with poaching”. 

The chairperson of the portfolio committee on economic opportunities, Beverley Schäfer, however said the DAFF’s efforts to deal with poaching have proved to be unsuccessful, judged by the fact that abalone poaching has quadrupled in the last eight years. 

“If you were ring-fencing that money we would have seen a far better impact on the ground,” Schäfer said. “The presence of law enforcement to deal with this matter is not visible enough.” 

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wwf  |  western cape  |  agribusiness  |  poaching  |  fishing industry
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