South Africa moves to ease COVID-19 fishing restrictions

South Africa has announced measures towards substantially freeing the entire fisheries sector from stringent restrictions under the COVID-19 national lockdown as the country confirmed 32,683 cases with 683 deaths by 31 May.

A statement by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) said “all fishing, including recreational fishing, is permitted with the exception of charter fishing.”

The easing of restrictions comes as South Africa’s High Court declared the country’s COVID-19 lockdown measures a violation of the country’s constitution, and therefore invalid.

Consequently, the government has been directed to “review, amend, and re-publish the regulations with due consideration to the limitation each regulation has on the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution.”

Initially, recreational fishing, which is associated with key downstream industries such as tourism, bait, and tackle, as well as boat construction and maintenance, was banned under the COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

The ban coincided with the decision by the DEFF to fix the total allowable catch for recreational fishing at 38.76 tons for the 2019/2020 fishing season, set to end in April 2020. The TAC is similar to the 2018/2019 season.

Earlier, the government had classified commercial fishing activities as essential because they provide an important source of food for sustaining the country’s nutritional levels.

Even though it was deemed an essential service, South African Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said, despite the loosening of the COVID-19 related restrictions on the fishing industry, “fishers must ensure that they have a valid fishing permit, observe all regulations relating to social distancing, health protocols, movement and the prohibition of groups and gatherings.”

The ruling by the high court, according to the South African Consolidated Recreational Angling Association (SACRAA), is likely to have “some unintended and most unwelcome consequences” on the fishing industry and recreational fishing in particular.

“It would appear that the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries’ statement regarding fishing and South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) notice regarding recreational boating are not going to be gazetted any time soon, at least not until the 14 days granted by the court for the Minister to redraft the regulations have passed,” SACRAA said.

South Africa’s commercial and recreational fishing industry is worth ZAR 4 billion to ZAR 5 billion (USD 237 million to USD 296 million, EUR 209 million to EUR 261 million) annually. 

Photo courtesy of South Africa Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries


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