21 February 2006

South Africa: Poachers beat legal fishing - by millions

The perlemoen and Patagonian toothfish poached in South African waters and sold illegally in Asian markets are worth more than the country's entire legal fishing industry.

The perlemoen and Patagonian toothfish sold illegally in south-east Asia each year fetch at least R4,4-billion - compared with the R4,1bn annual value of our legal fishing industry.

These shocking figures were revealed in a paper by Shaheen Moolla of Feike, a company that advises on marine regulatory law and environmental management.

Up to 10 times the total allowable catch of perlemoen was being sold in Asia, at a conservative value of R1,8bn.

And while the total allowable catch for Patagonian tooth fish was just 450 tons, it was believed that an annual 32 000 tons valued at R2,6bn was sold in Asia.

Moolla called for the urgent introduction of pro-active measures to stop poaching, particularly closing trade loopholes to block illegal exports.

South African anti-poaching strategies mostly came into play after the resource had been taken out of the water, he said. This resulted in reduction of stocks and damage to the marine ecosystem.

"Although South African abalone quota holders can lawfully only export 237 tons, it is credibly believed that more than 10 times this amount is traded and consumed on south-east Asian markets," he said.

The 237-ton quota was down from 600 tons six years ago.

The collapse of the perlemoen fishery was largely because of what is known internationally as "IUU fishing" - illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Sought-after Patagonian toothfish are caught off South African-owned Marion Island.

So IUU fishing in these two fisheries alone, where the combined total legal catch was just 687 tons, was worth more than the entire landed value of South Africa's commercial fisheries.

Moolla said that in 2004 Marine and Coastal Management had uncovered "massive" amounts of illegal fishing in the small pelagics (anchovy, pilchard) fishery.

"It is estimated that some 200 000 tons of pelagic fish - or one-third of the total allowable catch - was illegally harvested in one year alone."

IUU fishing affected almost every commercial fishery in South Africa, from traditional linefish to rock lobster and mussels, although on a smaller scale.

South Africa had substantial tools to combat poaching, including four new patrol vessels, modern monitoring systems which can plot the position of every fishing vessel in our waters, and good relationships with other organisations such as the police, Moolla said.

Closing trade loopholes was the key to successfully fighting IUU fishing, Moolla argued.

Perlemoen needed to be listed in terms of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), because any trade of any listed species required a permit and greater levels of regulation.

China had indicated a willingness to put a separate (non-Cites) permit system in place to regulate the import of perlemoen and any other South African fish into China and Hong Kong, and the Department of Environmental Affairs needed to engage the Chinese on this.

"What is required is a paper trail linking the exporter to the fishing boat that landed the fish," Moolla said.

Other proactive anti-poaching measures included expanding the "no-fishing" zones in marine protected areas along the coast.

Two long-planned marine protected areas had not yet been promulgated - including one around the Prince Edward group of islands, which would help protect collapsing Patagonian toothfish stocks.

The 2004/5 annual report of the Department of Environmental Affairs laid out a plan to prevent IUU fishing by the end of last year, and although a draft report was completed late in 2004, it has yet to be tabled in the cabinet or released for public comment.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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