The fishing community in Gansbaai have given a cautious welcome to news that abalone poaching will be reclassified as a serious priority crime. File picture: REUTERS
Cape Town - Environmentalists and the fishing community in Gansbaai have given a cautious welcome to news that abalone poaching will be reclassified as a serious priority crime to be investigated by the SAPS Organised Crime Unit.

The announcement was made on Tuesday at the meeting of the standing committee on community safety at the provincial legislature as part of a briefing by the SAPS on the 2018/19 annual report in the province.

Community Against Abalone Poaching spokesperson Danie Keet said: “It’s an extremely good development in the fight against abalone poaching. It’s something we’ve been fighting for three or four years.

“During the past month, there’s been an operation under way in the area that proved a great deterrent for the poachers. Our concern is if the operation stops, the poachers will return. But at the same time it proves poaching can be policed effectively and the resource can be protected,” said Keet.

Conservation Action Trust spokesperson Ross Harvey said: “In principle it’s a good thing. I think however if it’s unaccompanied by other structural changes, then it’s not likely to make a massive difference.”

Harvey warned: “One of the perversions in the abalone governance is that the department of fisheries at the moment has an incentive to wait until the abalone has been poached before it acts, because it’s entitled to confiscate abalone and then sell dried abalone as part of its legitimate means of raising money. This of course de-incentivises being pre-emptive in catching poachers and in fact incentivises poaching.”

Andricus van der Westhuizen, DA Western Cape spokesperson on environmental affairs and development planning said: “The reclassification of this dire criminal activity in our province is a step in the right direction towards protecting the Western Cape’s delicate marine environment and our precious ocean resources.

“I’m glad to see the SAPS is finally taking this matter seriously in our ongoing fight to curb abalone poaching in the Western Cape.

“This environmental crime is a pressing concern as abalone extinction could have disastrous consequences for the entire country. I’ll be monitoring this crime reclassification closely to ensure that law enforcement follows through on its commitments in our ongoing fight to protect our province’s oceans,” said Van der Westhuizen.

The risk of abalone extinction is a real threat to the oceans of the province, which will have a knock-on effect on the aquatic environment and the oceans economy of the province from which the majority of South Africa’s fisheries is sourced.

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Cape Argus