07 January 2005

Concern Over Chinese 'Stripping All Marine Life'

ALARM has been sounded at the coast over a worrying increase in incidents of Chinese nationals living in Namibia indiscriminately stripping the ocean of marine life.

Several incidents were reported over the festive season alone of groups of people poaching rocky areas of all mussels and limpets.

At Langstrand seven Chinese were seen by holidaymakers carrying off as many as 2 000 white mussels of all sizes in baskets and bags.

Another group of 15 from Walvis Bay was confronted by an official of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism at Paradise, about 7 km outside Swakopmund.

"They had stripped the rocks of limpets completely," the official told The Namibian.

These are the latest in a string of incidents observed and reported by residents at the coast over the past two years.

"The lagoon (at Walvis Bay) has been stripped. There are no mussels left on the walls," said Keith Wearne, Chairperson of the Coastal Environmental Trust of Namibia (CETN).

"They dig up clams from the sand, and even take out the insides of jelly fish."

He said he had come across poachers and made them throw it all back.

Wearne wrote a letter to the Ministry of Fisheries last year, but never received a reply.

"This needs to be looked into in a big way. It is a rotten situation."

A fisheries scientist told The Namibian she was alerted more than a year ago of three women busy stripping the rocks at the Mole beach.

"I rushed down there and found them with about 2 000 limpets in bags. They had taken them out of the shells and packed them in bags like meat."

The women dropped everything when they heard she was from the Ministry.

Michael Koopman, Control Fisheries Inspector of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, was not able to provide statistics of summonses issued over the past season.

He is busy compiling a report, but indicated there was definitely an increase.

"They mainly target mussels, but even take kelp and other seaweed from the sea."

Koopman said the inspectorate was well aware of the problem but struggled to cope with limited resources and transport.

About 14 inspectors are responsible for the coastline from Sandwich Harbour to Terrace Bay.

"When we approach Chinese people, they normally pretend not to understand English and not to know anything about the regulations," said Koopman.

The MET official said the same happened when he confronted the group of 15.

Only 25 white and 50 black mussels bigger than 3.8 cm are allowed to be harvested per person per day, as stipulated in Fisheries regulations.

The scientist said the biomass along the Namibian coastline is higher than almost anywhere in the world.

As no local community lives off the sea, the marine life is abundant.

"The Chinese, who eat almost anything from the sea, spotted this resource," she said.

"They take far too many. They know they can go down to the beach at spring tide every two weeks and find masses of food."

A person in the building industry said the seafood was taken inland and sold to other Chinese nationals working for building contractors.

The stripping takes place all along the coast.

The selling of the harvest has been observed as far north as Opuwo.

The tourism industry has also raised concern over the poaching of marine resources.

The issue was discussed at a Tour and Safari Association (TASA) forum last year at Swakopmund shortly after press reports of the latest incident in which a diplomatic vehicle was involved.

The group apparently pleaded "diplomatic immunity" when they were approached by officials.

Martin Wiemers, vice-chairperson of TASA, said yesterday his organisation would take it up with the Namibia Tourism Board and the Ministry of Fisheries as soon as they had sufficient information.

He said should the stripping go too far, it could harm the country's image in a similar way as shark finning would do.

Participants in the forum felt the Chinese were allowed to get away with it as "everybody was scared to touch them".

Wearne of the CETN said the feeling he got was that "nobody cared", as it was payback time for the Chinese for what they did for the country during the struggle.

Other fisheries officials, including the director, were still on leave and could not be reached for comment.

The opinion was expressed that the regulations were there for a good reason and should be enforced.

The role of the public in alerting the inspectorate was also highlighted.


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