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West Coast rock lobster walkout: Live lobster to be rehabilitated and safely returned to sea

Hundreds of thousands of crayfish walked out the ocean at Elands Bay on the West Coast. Locals here say they believe its an intense Red Tide. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Hundreds of thousands of crayfish walked out the ocean at Elands Bay on the West Coast. Locals here say they believe its an intense Red Tide. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 4, 2022

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Cape Town - The mass die-off of West Coast rock lobster this week in the Western Cape has prompted the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (Deff) to activate their West Coast Rock Lobster Contingency Plan and issued a ’Situation Red Alert’ that placed all government role-players in the sector on standby to assist with rescue and clean-up operations.

The contingency plan was being led by the Deff and supported by the West Coast District Municipality, Cederberg Municipality, South African Police Services, South African National Defence Force, Western Cape Province and the local communities.

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While this plan was vital to address the current West Coast rock lobster walkout, the plan comes six year after the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi) warned that the lobster could disappear altogether unless radical action was taken to save the fishery.

In an interview on Cape Talk in 2016, when the warning was first issued, WWF Sassi programme manager Pavitray Pillay said it was unfortunate that government did not listen to scientific evidence and continued to issue permits for fishermen to catch the rock lobster.

“West Coast rock lobster as a species is still in decline and has dropped below 2% of its pristine biomass (pre-fishing levels). Although there have been severe reductions in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), one of the major problems that remains is illegal fishing,” said WWF Marine Programme head, Craig Smith.

Smith said incidents like this walkout further compromised the status of West Coast rock lobster, and this contingency plan was important to reduce the environmental impact.

The department estimated 500 tons of West Coast rock lobster walkout on March 1 as a result of the harmful algal bloom – known as the Red Tide – that had been developing on the West Coast.

“These blooms were dominated by a group of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates and their inshore accumulation, particularly during periods of calm, often leads to their decay and the subsequent low oxygen conditions which cause marine mortalities, as observed on the beaches of Elands Bay,” said Deff spokesperson Albi Modise.

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The Sea Search Research team was up in Elands Bay, where thousands of crayfish also washed up on March 1, to sample the dead species and check for toxic algae while checking on potential seal deaths – they estimated around 750 000 crayfish washed ashore.

Modise said all recovered live lobster would be rehabilitated and safely returned to sea once the red tide threat had abated.

“Members of the public are warned not to collect and consume any decayed fish and shellfish washed ashore as a result of the red tide, as this could pose a serious health hazard,” said Modise.

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