File picture: Independent Media

Cape Town - The war on abalone poaching is being lost. The latest statistics show that over the past seven years, the number of poached perlemoen has rocketed to numbers last seen when recreational fishing was banned in 2003.

It is estimated that more than 7 million abalone were poached in 2014. The last time the numbers were that high was in 2003, when it is estimated that more than 8 million perlemoen were poached.

The abalone poaching costs an estimated R1 billion annually.

Now it appears that there is an about-turn on the part of the state – it will be engaging the people most affected by the clampdown on recreational fishing, which had led to a loss of income for countless of fishers and a rise in poaching.

There was a drastic drop in poaching between 2004 and 2008. In 2008, poaching was halved to 4 million.

The grim figures were presented at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Abalone Indaba, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Wednesday.

DAFF chief director for monitoring and compliance Ceba Mtoba said the department faced a serious challenge to stop the complete decimation of the stock. “It is time to shift gears,” he said.

Mtoba said abalone was a commodity. “Poaching has become the norm. They get millions of dollars in Hong Kong in exchange for abalone.

“Our sanctions are too lenient. Poachers are sentenced to community service. They bribe officials with more than R100 000 to smuggle across the border. They mix it with frozen chicken and pack it in containers to avoid being detected.”

World Wildlife Fund’s Jessica Greenstone said: “I have never seen such an increase in abalone poaching in the past six years. It has escalated. That is why there is a decline in stock.”

Rhodes University professor of fishing science Peter Britz said: “The system is clearly not working. We need a more realistic approach to address poaching.”

He called the government’s closure of recreational fishing “a huge mistake”.

Self-confessed poacher Sammy Brett said the government created a problem by refusing to grant total allowable catch (TAC) permits to emerging fishermen.

“That is why abalone smuggling syndicate exists. Before the closure of recreational fishing in 2003, we were granted permission to catch 650kg of abalone per person.

“When it opened in 2010, we were allowed only 528kg. If we had been given permanent TACs, there would had been no poaching.”

He said the DAFF should listen to them and consider their inputs if it was serious about curbing poaching.

“We are the only ones who understand the dynamics of poaching.”

Fisheries Management deputy director-general Siphokazi Ndudane gave the undertaking that the Marine Living Resources Act, which regulates fishing, would be reviewed.

“The act is old as it dates back to 1998. It has no mention of poaching. Poaching has been overlapping under our watch over the years because of its ineffectiveness. The act is no longer applicable now.”

“This indaba will form part of our paperwork to be presented to the president when amending the act. We will host a two-day workshop in three months’ time which will look at issues of management and compliance.

“That is where fishermen’s inputs would be vital. As it stands the current policy has no mention of abalone poaching and regulation,” she said.

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Cape Times