Poachers: why attack law bidding divers?

By Time of article published Dec 7, 2007

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By Caryn Dolley

Divers, aquatic clubs and wildlife organisations have come out in force suggesting that efforts to fight poaching be "jacked up" instead of "attacking those abiding the law" by banning diving in certain areas.

The ban, along most of the Cape of Good Hope reserve at Cape Point, has been proposed by Minister of Environmental Affairs Marthinus van Schalkwyk in an attempt to protect rapidly diminishing perlemoen (abalone) stocks.

The proposal has drawn widespread criticism from diving enthusiasts.

"Extremely angry" recreational divers have been drawing up a petition against the proposal, while the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned that a ban might have unintended consequences.

Mike Manson-Smith, chair of the Pringle Bay Aquatic Club, said if Van Schalkwyk believed that the ban would decrease poaching in the area then "he has another think coming".

"The only way to decrease or eliminate abalone poaching is to hit the poachers hard. At the moment, they are getting away with murder," he said.

Grant Whitford of Underwater Africa, which teaches recreational scuba divers about legislation affecting them, said if the "completely ridiculous" ban came into effect it would "not make a difference to poaching".

"This possible ban has angered divers. Our legal activities are being curtailed and attacked," he said.

"More serious action should be taken against poachers instead. Anti-poaching methods should be jacked up."

Recreational diver Deon ten Velden has started a petition against Van Schalkwyk's "absolutely ludicrous plan". In a few hours, at least 20 divers had signed up.

Professional stunt diver Brendan Gutzeit said the proposed ban was "unfair" and that it threatened his career.

"Why must the law-abiding divers who buy scuba-diving permits be punished because of a select few who can't seem to keep their hands to themselves?" he asked.

The WWF warned that although "a ban on diving in prescribed areas could be an effective way" to curb poaching, "such drastic measures could alienate one of marine conservation's most avid supporters" - the scuba divers and snorkellers.

It said a ban would be "fruitless unless paired with a comprehensive compliance plan".

"Over and above the development of an interdepartmental compliance plan, the government needs to commit more resources and capacity to the fight against poaching and its effects on coastal communities," said Deon Nel, manager of the WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership.

The proposal would also prohibit the use of certain equipment, including underwater breathing gear and flippers, in the specified areas.

The department of environmental affairs said public comment on the proposal - welcome until January 15 - would be taken into consideration.

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