Confusion over trout regulations

2014-05-21 00:00

STEPHEN Coan’s opinion piece (The Witness, May 6) contains factual inaccuracies regarding the implications of the proposed listing of brown trout (Salmo trutta ) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ) as invasive species in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act Regulations.

The confusion is fuelled by a campaign led by an anti-regulation lobby associated with the Federation of South African Fly-fishers (Fosaf) and Trout SA. Their claims in The Witness and other publications that the government wishes to “destroy the trout industry” and “eradicate trout” are untrue.

It is the position of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) that there is no threat from these regulations to the continued operations of existing, legal trout industries. Below are seven facts on the issue.

• Trout are invasive

The anti-regulation lobby bases its argument on a premise that trout are not invasive. The international literature on the invasiveness of trout is absolute and overwhelming. Brown trout and rainbow trout are listed among the world’s 100 Worst Invasive Alien Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Research has shown that trout are self-sustaining in suitable waters in South Africa, and are out-competing indigenous species, including eating indigenous fish, amphibians and invertebrates.

• Trout are already regulated

Trout are already regulated by provincial authorities. Currently, no trout farm in South Africa may operate without a permit. A permit is also required to stock trout in rivers and dams.

• Trout will not be ‘exterminated’

Trout can be exploited where they have already invaded. They are Category 2 invasive species, and therefore need a permit, in protected areas, for aquaculture facilities or for stocking in rivers, lakes or wetlands. But a permit is not necessary for dams, in catchment systems in which they already occur.

The listing of trout as Category 2 in fish sanctuary areas (for critically endangered and endangered indigenous fish species) is not necessary, and has been removed.

• Fish translocation

Fosaf has said, commendably, that it is completely opposed to trout being introduced into waters in which they do not occur.

The regulations state that no fish — be they indigenous, alien or a listed invasive fish — may be introduced into a river, lake, wetland or estuary, without a permit.

The new regulations will actually protect trout waters from being invaded by other invasive fish species that out-compete trout, such as small-mouth bass.

• Protecting indigenous fish

Fosaf has supported, commendably, that where there are areas in which it is possible to reclaim rivers from invasive species and protect endangered indigenous fish species, this should be considered. However, contrary to what may have been understood, any possible small-scale reclaiming of tributaries poses no threat to aquaculture, and will have virtually no impact on recreational fly-fishers.

• The impact of irresponsible claims on property prices

Coan quotes figures regarding the impact of the regulations on property prices. These impacts are not verified, and yet are stated as fact. If anything, arguing — utterly incorrectly — that “trout are going to be eradicated” and that the “government is intent on destroying the trout industry” could have such an impact.

A Dullstroom farm recently on the market was not bought, as the potential buyer was reluctant to purchase the property as he had heard from the anti-regulation lobby that he could not stock a dam on the farm with trout. The regulations say the opposite. As trout are known already to be in the Dullstroom area, no permit will be needed to stock this dam with trout.

• Targeting alien species?

There are inflammatory accusations by the anti-regulation lobby that the government is targeting alien species such as cattle and poultry, grapes and dogs. These regulations do not target alien species that are already legally in the country and are not invasive.

The proposed regulation of trout has the full support of South Africa’s top fish scientists, provincial experts and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

There is no threat to the trout industry and trout will not be eradicated, as has been disingenuously claimed by the anti-regulation lobby.

Brown trout and rainbow trout may be utilised in areas in which they have already been established. A permit will be required for the two trout species in protected areas, for aquaculture facilities or for stocking in rivers, lakes or wetlands, but will not be required for stocking in dams in catchment systems in which they already occur. No permit is required to fish for trout and catch-and-release of trout in the same water is also allowed, wherever they legally occur.

What is not negotiable is the need to prevent trout invading areas in which they do not currently occur. Indeed, the biggest threat that may lead to needing to strengthen this legislation in the future is if more waters become invaded by trout.

• For more details, go to www.environment.gov.za

• Zolile Nqayi is director: communication services, at the Department of Environmental Affairs.

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