SOME linefish are showing signs of recovery for the first time – 13 years after former environment affairs minister Valli Moosa declared an emergency in the linefish industry because many species had collapsed from over-fishing.
Five species of linefish are now showing “an arrest of a century-long downward spiral”, according to a report released yesterday by environmental group WWF-SA.
Yesterday Moosa, chairman of WWF-SA, was at the launch of the report which assessed the impact of the emergency he declared in 2000. At the time, 19 species of commercial linefish had collapsed and another 50 were threatened.
As minister in charge of fisheries, Moosa faced the option of either closing the industry altogether or limiting the number of fishing vessels. He chose to cut the number of vessels from 3 000 to 450 – causing an outcry – and in 2003 he introduced linefishing quotas for the first time, causing further unhappiness.
Yesterday Colin Attwood of the Marine Research Institute at UCT and one of the report’s editors said regarding linefish stocks: “We’re at the bottom, looking up. Things are a lot better from the scientific point of view.”
Attwood, who worked in the former Marine and Coastal Management, added: “I’m 46 years old. If by the time I retire we’ve not turned linefish stocks around, I would regard my career as a failure.”
Only five of the badly hammered linefish stocks have been assessed so far: hottentot, carpenter, slinger, yellowtail and silver cob. Although none of them has recovered, scientists found “some evidence” that stocks of the first four were showing signs of recovery, while silver cob showed some signs of recovery only in the eastern population.
“The emergency declared in 2000 appeared to be the single most important factors influencing the stock dynamics,” the report said.
John Duncan, who heads WWF-SA’s marine programme, described Moosa’s intervention as “incredibly far-sighted, especially when you consider the political pressure on him as minister.
“It’s never easy, so what he did was fantastic.”
But there was still a long way to go, and it was crucial that fisheries “stick to their guns” with strict management if stocks were to recover.
Some species, such as red steenbras and seventy-four, were in dire straits and there was a moratorium on catching them.
Seventy-four used to be one of the most important linefish in the early part of the 1900s, making up 70 percent of the KwaZulu-Natal commercial linefish catch. Stocks collapsed from over-fishing in the 1960s and 1970s, when fishermen targeted their spawning grounds. Now seventy-four stocks are only 0.09 percent of what they were.
Stocks of white steenbras, white musselcracker and galjoen are in a bad state. Recreational fishers are allowed to catch them, but it is illegal to sell them.
Dennis Fredericks from the fisheries department said he believed the downward trajectory of the linefish could be turned around eventually.
“Let’s hope we can take lessons learned from linefish and do it for lobster and for abalone,” he said.