Cape Town.071115.GOTCHA! Mark van Coller makes the most of the first day of crayfish season as he checks out his catch in the kelpheads off Kommetjie. Picture:Sophia Stander Reporter:Cape Times

Cape Town - Commercial lobster fishermen have been fishing in the Betty’s Bay Marine Reserve where it is outlawed - and they have a letter from the fisheries department which allows them to do so.

The letter from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) was sent out last Friday, granting commercial lobster fishermen from Kleinmond, Hermanus and Gansbaai permission to fish their quotas anywhere in a section of the southern Cape coast they call “Zone F”. However, the letter failed to say they may not fish in the marine protected area or the designated “no-fishing” zone.

Both areas were created by the government to allow depleted fish stocks to recover. The lobster population has sunk to just 3 percent of its size in the early 1900s.

The department was told of its mistake and on Wednesday sent out another letter saying they were not allowed to fish in the protected areas. However, either the fishermen did not get the letter or they ignored it, because they were back pulling out lobster in Betty’s Bay Marine Reserve on Thursday.

Local resident Tony Cunningham said the incident was a good example of the confusion caused by the split of duties between the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Environment Affairs.

“From a global conservation perspective, that this is allowed by DAFF in South Africa’s first Unesco-linked biosphere reserve, Kogelberg, which the government has signed up to support, is an indictment of DAFF’s mandate,” Cunningham said.

Mike Tannet, who runs the community-based anti-poaching organisation SeaWatch in Betty’s Bay, said on Thursday the fisheries department had done the same thing last year.

“It is sad to wake up and see four or five crayfish boats where they are not allowed to fish. These fishermen constantly push the legal bounds. There is less crayfish where they are allowed to fish so they asked the department to extend the boundaries. They did so but did not say they could not fish in the protected areas. These areas are important breeding areas. There are fewer crayfish now and they are smaller from overfishing,” Tannet said.

Fisheries spokesman Lionel Adendorf said on Thursday the department had sent a second letter correcting the first. He said the department would ensure the fishermen complied.

However, locals have told the Cape Times that even the second letter is incorrect, and that fisheries will have to issue a third letter.

Cape Times