File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives.
Rampant abalone poaching should be treated as a serious crime on par with rhino poaching. The Western Cape Police Ombudsman Johan Brand released a report on complaints on the police’s ineffectiveness when dealing with abalone poaching in the Overstrand areas.

Locals have painted a picture of the increasing brazen syndicates who poach in the open, recruit youngsters as well as threaten locals who report the matters to police.

In his report, Brand found that the complaints were substantive and recommended that the matter be taken up with Minister of Police Bheki Cele.

Other recommendations in the report include:

* Abalone poaching being classified as organised crime which should be investigated by the Organised Crime Unit.

* Establish an Environmental Court in consultation with the minister of Justice and Constitutional Development.

Gerrit Boonstra with the Community Against Abalone Poaching said the community got tired reporting matters to police who don’t investigate their complaints.

“The problem is an old one but one that keeps escalating. With the gangsters getting involved, it has spiralled out of control. In the beginning, poachers would conduct their business on the sly, now you can find between 30 or even 40 divers at a time,” he says.

“And the police’s response to that would always be to wait for them to finish and then have roadblocks and confiscate what was harvested, which defeats the purpose of protecting marine life. But now the poachers have adapted to those strategies and are transporting the divers and the perlemoen on different vehicles and routes.

“It seems there is no plan to get expert units in to deal with the matter, we even had the army but they were here for a month or so. But the poachers also learnt their routine and adapted. They’re fighting a losing battle just like on the Cape Flats.”

Another activist Mark Collings said police were not equipped to deal with this scourge.

“The reality on the ground isn’t necessarily that the police are failing but rather they are being failed because they are understaffed and under-resourced,” he said.

“They are losing the battle horrifically. Policemen who are trying their best, live next door to the poachers and the gangsters. So their families are threatened,” added Collings.

He said effective, intelligence driven policing would go a long way in dismantling the deeply rooted syndicates.

“The guys are brazen and don’t care whether you take a picture of them to report it because they just threaten you. There are even talks of the guys beginning to bring out guns to fight with police.”

Weekend Argus