In my younger days growing up fishing on a regular basis with my father and grandfather, I was taught to have the utmost respect for fauna and flora.
We always made sure that the first thing we packed for a good day’s fishing was the fishing licence. Seeing nature conservation officials approaching made us shiver just because they were there, even if we had not done anything wrong.
The nature conservation law was upheld regardless of skin colour or activities.
But sad to say, that has all changed. Sad, because things have not changed for the better.
I run a lodge on one of the most beautiful settings in KwaZulu-Natal, if not South Africa, where I experience everything first-hand, from poaching through to illegal netting, with no help from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
In the last five years there have been a lot of interesting stories to write about, but that might take some time. So I will only mention a couple of important incidents:
The shad were at St Lucia, so every fisherman was there trying to get his quota for the day. There was a very long line of guys on the beach, each with a fishing rod and a hopeful look on his face.
Sitting there with a friend on the beach, fishing rod in hand, was an Indian guy just south of us, and next to him was a black guy. We saw an African guy from nature conservation checking everybody’s licences, working his way northwards.
We watched him as he stopped by each fisherman, but to our surprise he just greeted the African guy (who arrived after us), walked past him and asked the Indian man for his licence.
After the Indian fisherman protested, the officer was forced to turn around to ask the black fisherman for his licence and, to no one’s surprise, the man was asked to leave the beach because he did not have one.
I once had three armed poachers on my property, so I called Ezemvelo at False Bay to help apprehend them, only to be told that it was not their property, but that they would let everybody around me know there were poachers in the area.
About four weeks later I received a call from Ezemvelo, who wanted to drive to my lodge in unmarked cars and then go on foot from here to surprise armed poachers in my area.
When I said no and explained why, the official said that I should not be full of crap and be a good neighbour.
We have all been looking forward to having the lake full so we could start fishing and having a braai or a picnic next to the water, with the whole family enjoying the outing.
Tropical storm Irina did help a great deal, almost making everybody’s wish come true. After getting 276mm, and Charters Creek about 315mm, the level of the lake rose by about half a metre.
But with that, almost as quickly as the water increased, the illegal netting increased as well.
A week ago, I had to kill a flamingo to help it out of its misery, because it had got stuck in a net with the wind blowing it to shore.
The bird’s left leg was broken in about five places and the right about eight.
It was so badly broken that the bones were sticking out and in most places it was only tendons that held the legs together, with a piece of the net still stuck on some of the bones around its legs.
When I phoned Ezemvelo and asked why it was not doing anything regarding the illegal nets, I was told that it was going to, but it could not launch a boat as yet.
I asked why they could not drive to an area and walk from there and was told that they would try.
On my way to school this week, I drove past a woman with a 20-litre bucket on her head, with two tailfins sticking out.
I stopped to check the size of the fish, because this is really good news that the fish were coming back.
The two big ones were not the only fish in the bucket.
There were about 20 small grunter that were way undersize, with the two bigger grunter just about the minimum requirement.
Now I have to ask, how are the fish stock levels supposed to increase if the locals are clearing whatever is in their nets?
Lastly, in the Kosi Bay area, the locals don’t need fishing licences because they have fish kraals.
They don’t have size limits or bag limits.
There is, however, one question that we have asked on numerous occasions, but are still waiting for an answer: What is the definition of a local?
I strongly feel that KZN Ezemvelo and iSimagaliso must get their act together and have one set of rules across the board and also start enforcing it.
l Van der Westhuizen is GM of the Nibela Lake Lodge