Abalone poaching plagues South Africa

Published on
July 12, 2019

South Africa is proposing a review of an existing policy on abalone fishing rights to ensure more small-scale fishing coastal communities – hitherto considered marginalized under existing fisheries regulations – have their share of access to the resource increased as one way of tackling the runaway poaching of the endemic abalone species Haliotis midae. 

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana previously identified high-level corruption in the space among government officers, which at some point forced his ministry to stop using official stores to keep confiscated fish after the theft of seven “[metric tons] of confiscated abalone from our departmental stores by armed robbers reportedly in police uniform” took place early last year. 

South Africa has tried implementing several measures to control illegal fishing of the H. Midae, such as the 2007 listing of the species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix III as well as increased government-led enforcement operations.

Unfortunately, the measures have thus far failed, with the poaching intensifying and the DAFF calling for an international partnership to eliminate the illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing network for the species.

The listing of H. Midae under CITES was reversed in 2010 because of difficulties in its implementation, according to a report by Traffic International.

Other attempts made by South Africa to curb abalone poaching include establishing special environmental courts to prosecute abalone poachers and coming up with more inclusive fisheries policies. However, the report indicates that these attempts were inadequately resourced and could not conclusively address the deep-rooted historical socio-political issues raised by small-scale fishers in coastal fishing areas.

“Part of the reason for the resilience of the illegal abalone fishery, as this document demonstrates, is that poaching has filled a socio‐economic void left behind by apartheid, offering historically disadvantaged small‐scale fishers an unprecedented opportunity to earn good money from the sea,” the Traffic International report said.

But now Zokwana is recommending the reconsideration of the “rights allocation approach in the Abalone sector where abalone rights would be allocated to small-scale fishing sector in communities adjacent to the abalone fishing grounds.”

“This would promote sense of ownership and accountability from small-scale fishing communities and address the matter of exclusion and participation,” Zokwana said in April.

Earlier in March, the minister announced more recognition will be given to small fishers and their cooperative societies with the establishment of small-scale fisheries by the government in the country’s four coastal provinces, partly to “protect and enhance our environmental assets and natural resources.”

“As part of radical transformation and diversification of the sector from white dominated established commercial fishing companies harvesting our marine resources, I have made a declaration to allocate small-scale fishing rights from 5 years to 15-year renewable rights allocation only to Small Scale Fisheries Co-operatives,” Zokwana said.

“This will allow space for them to grow through trial and error, be mentored and supported through resources,” he added.

Nearly eight years earlier, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had recommended the adoption of long-term fishing rights, especially for small-scale fishers along the coast, as a means to “not only encourage community involvement in fisheries and their management, but also promote a sense of stewardship for resources that fishers will have access to over a seven to 10-year period.”

According to Traffic International, the neglect of small fishers in coastal areas has encouraged organized criminal syndicates to take advantage of existing socio‐political dynamics “to recruit poachers from local communities who feel disenfranchised by government policy and entitled to extract the easily harvested resource.” 

“Furthermore, evidence suggests that poachers are sometimes paid for service in illegal drugs, adding another complex layer of social challenges and addiction along the coast of South Africa,” the Traffic International report said.

The push for increasing and safeguarding fishing rights of small fishers in South Africa’s coastal areas as part of a wider solution to the poaching of the H. Midae comes at a time the government is exploring effective ways of dealing with the problem of collusion between abalone poachers and state officers.

“It has become clear that we are not dealing with ordinary criminals, but organized syndicates that at times are aided by our very own officials and our own security apparatus,” Zokwana said.

He called for a new and wide-reaching approach to deal with worsening abalone poaching including “rooting out corruption within DAFF and ensuring that officials are fit to hold office and capable of fighting the scourge of poaching.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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