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ABALONE is easy to fish, fetches very high prices, and there is a seemingly insatiable market for it in southern Asia.
As a result, one would have thought the state, which manages our marine resources on behalf of the nation, would have ensured that abalone was fished in a manner that allowed an indefinite supply, harvesting the “interest” to sell, while protecting the “capital” to reproduce.
That has not happened. Instead poachers have plundered the resource to such an extent that scientists have calculated that abalone will be extinct on the southern Cape coast by 2034. That is if poaching is brought down by 58 percent. If not, the end will be sooner. In the some areas, abalone are already functionally extinct: there are so few left they cannot reproduce sufficiently to increase the population.
The authorities have tried to stamp out poaching over the years, with various agencies and tactics. These include Operation Neptune, a special unit in the police; the Marines, a law enforcement agency from Overstrand Municipality; inspectors from Marine and Coastal Management, now the fisheries branch; the Scorpions; the Hawks and more recently, military veterans. The local community has also done its bit to help, with Seawatch.
All these have had some successes, but as researchers from Rhodes University pointed out a couple of years ago, although the authorities have used considerable resources to try to combat abalone poaching, their efforts have been short-term, fragmented, uncoordinated, unsustained and no match for the well-equipped and highly organised illegal syndicates with their intelligence networks.
What needs to change is the thinking. The authorities must accept that conventional methods have not stopped poaching. It is not a job for a bobby-on-the-beat, nor can it be a nine-to-five operation. For a start we should look at countries like Oman which has stamped out poaching, and Australia which appears to be getting it under control, and see whether their methods would work here.
What we need is a co-ordinated, sustained strategy that deals with the problem on several levels, from international crime to the situation on the shoreline. If some countries can beat poaching syndicates, so can we.