Report warns of marine stock crisis

File Photo: Courtney Africa

File Photo: Courtney Africa

Published Dec 31, 2012


Durban - Many of South Africa’s commercially important sea fish and marine creatures were becoming ever less plentiful, with sharks, perlemoen and tuna continuing to take a heavy pounding, the fisheries department said.

Releasing the latest report on the status of the country’s 17 main fishery sectors, the department noted that marine fish stocks around the world were in crisis mainly because of overfishing and pollution.

According to a recent UN report more than two thirds of the world’s fisheries were overfished or fully harvested, while nearly a third were in decline.

“The 2012 Status Report confirms that South African stocks show no exception to the global deteriorating trends as local wild sea resources continue to decline,” said Greta Apelgren-Narkedien, newly appointed deputy director- general of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

One example was abalone (perlemoen), a large marine snail which is a highly prized seafood delicacy in the Far East.

At the turn of the century the commercial abalone fishery generated almost R100-million a year, but had to be closed in 2008 because of rampant illegal harvesting and continued declines in harvests.

The abalone fishery had been reopened on an experimental basis in parts of the Western and Eastern Cape in July 2010, but, despite an increase in marine policing, poaching rates had almost doubled during 2010 and 2011 compared to the preceding two years.

The report, based mainly on the work of scientific working groups from government and industry, also voiced concern about Patagonian toothfish, which are caught near South Africa’s remote Prince Edward/Marion Island territory and exported to Japan and the US.

This species remained in a depleted state and could be in overall decline.

As a result, the total allowable catch for this species in 2011/2012 had been reduced by 20 percent.

Off the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, several years of drought and the blockage of the Lake St Lucia estuary mouth had resulted in a “severe impact” on the shallow-water prawn fishery on the Thukela Banks, south of Richards Bay.

In 2010, only about 7 tons of shallow-water prawns were harvested on the Thukela Banks, compared to more than 107 tons in 2000.

“As a consequence, it has been recommended that the exploitation levels be retained at the current levels, but that fishing on the Thukela Banks should be restricted to between March and August,” the report said.

Several shark species were also in trouble, with data showing that shortfin mako sharks appeared to be overexploited.

Catches of soupfin, smoothhound and requiem sharks by the longline industry had also increased “dramatically” over the past three years, largely because of the increasing market value of several shark species.

A recent assessment of yellowfin tuna in the Atlantic showed that this species was also overfished, while southern bluefin tuna were also overexploited.

However, the Agulhas sole (flatfish) seemed to remain “abundant” and this fishery was worth about R36m a year.

Stock of deep and shallow-water hake appeared to be benefiting slowly from precautionary management implemented in 2006 and both stocks were classified as “improving”.

Fishing pressure and stock status of the Cape horse mackerel was classified as “optimal”, while netfish such as harders (mullet) were depleted, the report said.

In KZN, oysters were considered to be optimally exploited, but overharvested in the southern Cape.

Most linefish species in South Africa were in a collapsed state because of depredation by both commercial linefishing vessels, more than 4 000 ski-boaters and almost 30 000 subsistence fishers. - The Mercury

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