huge shoal of white steenbras being illegally trekked at Strandfontein

Cape Town - The tracker records for vehicles used by fisheries control officers based at Gordon’s Bay have been examined to see whether these officers were at the scene of an alleged illegal trek-net haul of white steenbras near Macassar last month.

But the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it was able to confirm from these records that the vehicles in question had not been in the vicinity of the trek.

It was responding to questions yesterday by the Cape Argus, including whether it was investigating an unconfirmed allegation that some of the fish had been taken by these officers.

In its reply on Friday to earlier questions about the incident, the department said that fisheries control officers had been present at the trek.

In terms of an agreed protocol between the department, the City of Cape Town and the trek-net rights holders of False Bay, the department is supposed to be notified ahead of any trek.

The department said it was still investigating the incident and could also not yet say whether it was the same trek-netters who had been involved in an allegedly illegal haul of more than 1 000 under-sized kabeljou – seized by its officers – in a trek between Sunrise Beach and Strandfontein in April. It said it needed more time to respond to a question about the status of that case.

 

Angry recreational fishermen allege numerous incidents of illegal catches and night-time netting in False Bay.

All the fish in the photographs of last month’s white steenbras trek-netting incident have been identified as adolescent – about five years old. White steenbras – which can grow to one metre, weigh 30kg and live for 30 years – spawn at the age of six when reaching a length of 65cm, which means they would probably have undertaken their first spawning migration only next year.

Macassar – like Muizenberg – is an over-wintering spot for adolescent and injured white steenbras that don’t migrate with the other adult fish that undertake spawning migrations up the east coast in winter. The juveniles then move to estuarine areas in spring.

UCT associate professor of zoology and fish expert Dr Colin Attwood said in response to a Cape Argus request for comment that he was not aware of this particular incident.

 

But pointing out that it was illegal to sell this species, he said: “White steenbras numbers have taken a huge dive since the 1960s and have never been allowed to recover.

“Part of the problem is that their nursery grounds – estuaries – have been severely degraded. At least 75 percent of estuarine habitat has been lost, which means that the recruitment strength is severely compromised, regardless of the effect of fishing.

“Even so, fishing pressure on these fish is far too high. Compliance with the regulations is very, very poor.

“It is not only the treks that take illegal fish – the majority of white steenbras kept by recreational anglers around the coast are either under-sized or over the bag limit.

“Shame on everyone: farmers who stole the water from the estuary, alien trees which did the same, coastal municipalities which didn’t uphold building regulations, coastal managers who breach estuary mouths prematurely, fishermen who can’t think of tomorrow, and fisheries and conservation agencies that could not be bothered to apply the fisheries laws.” - Cape Argus