The details of how prolific poaching is in the Western Cape has been disclosed in an explosive new book Poacher: Confessions from the abalone underworld, which gives first-hand accounts of the illicit hunt for the underwater treasure.
Wild and farmed abalone fisheries are common in the Western Cape.
Shuhood Abader (not his real name), who was an abalone poacher for more than 10 years, co-authored the book with freelance journalist Kimon de Greef.
De Greef also wrote an investigative report for National Geographic, on how crime syndicates targeted the legal supply chain, including factories and armoured transit vans.
“Abalone transportation is increasingly running parallel to the cash in transit economy and some people have the skills necessary to rob these trucks.
“It’s difficult to say how often this happens because the abalone industry does not want to talk about this out of fear that it will harm its business,” said de Greef.
This week TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, released a series of videos showing armed gangs ambushing these vans.
But the police say they have no records of the crimes.
According to SAPS abalone worth more than R5.5 million has been seized since the beginning of this month.
The average amount of abalone poached every year is 2174 tonnes amounting to R628m.
De Greef said law enforcement could only treat the symptom and didn’t solve the underlying issues.
“The police focus on law enforcement and arrests but we need to investigate the larger issues because there are socio-economic issues at play,” De Greef said.
Abader, 46, said on a good night he made between R30 000 and R35 000 for about five hours diving for abalone.
“On average we would make about R15 000 a night and on a really bad night you’d make R10 000.
“When I first got into it I was driving three divers around and getting paid R1 000 a night, but I took an interest in what they’re doing and got the opportunity to dive myself one night,” he said.
Abader said he had no formal scuba diving training and almost died the first time due to rough seas.
“I wouldn’t say I was living a lavish lifestyle though because I was supporting my family, so it was mostly hand-to-mouth money. The most I had was a couple of BMWs for myself.”
He was arrested eight times and convicted three times, once with a fine, a suspended sentence and a prison sentence. It was in prison that Abader decided to detail his story in a book.
In 2007, he began writing the book in prison on an Olivetti typewriter.
On the question of remorse, Abader felt he was a small cog in a much bigger industry where abalone poaching often leads to an exchange for the import of drugs.
“In my time as a poacher I couldn’t tell how you how much I took but I was always careful with what I took and I wouldn’t take the small abalone. I also had secret spots that I wouldn’t take from and told no one about,” he said.
* Abader lives with his second wife and their four young children in Cape Town and now trains horses for a living.