Fight to save trout industry

2014-04-16 00:00

THE trout industry is fighting back against a state move to exterminate the fresh water fish, which they say will destroy a R1,4 billion industry.

“The Department of Environment and Agriculture is trying to destroy the trout industry by making trout an invasive species,” charged Gerrie van der Merwe, acting chairperson of TroutSA, speaking in Nottingham Road yesterday.

In February the DEA, using the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, named 532 species they propose listing as invasive aliens. One of them was trout.

The intention is to declare trout as invasive in all nature reserves, all mountain catchment reserves and all so-called fish sanctuary areas. This means they have to be eradicated.

Maps of affected areas recently released by the department include most of the trout fishing locations in KwaZulu-Natal, from the northern to the southern Drakensberg, thus impacting on trout fishing operations based around Nottingham Road and Underberg.

TroutSA was formed in December to respond to this threat and has combined with the Federation of South African Fly Fishers (Fosaf) to present a number of “road shows” highlighting the issue in trout fishing areas around South Africa and to garner support for the legal battles that might lie ahead.

Yesterday they made a presentation at the Nottingham Road Hotel. Those attending included hatchery owners, tackle dealers, farmers and fisher folk.

Pietermaritzburg lawyer Ilan Lax, Fosaf’s national chairperson, together with Durban-based lawyer Ian Cox, a member of the convening committee of TroutSA, have submitted a 68-page docu­ment to DEA commenting on the proposed Alien and Invasive Species List and Regulations on behalf of TroutSA and Fosaf.

The heart of the their submission tackles the department on the legality of the laws they intend promulgating, while also taking issue as to whether trout are invasive or not.

Van der Merwe said trout have been in South Africa for 125 years and in the past the DEA and conservation bodies such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife were active in the introduction, breeding and conservation of the species.

“Now the department plans to eradicate trout,” said Van der Merwe. “This hinges on whether trout are considered invasive or not.”

Van der Merwe said there are around 40 trout hatcheries in South Africa and these “underpin a large industry with a big value chain”, that includes stocking trout waters, the hospitality industry and trout-based real estate in such places as Clarens, Rhodes and Dullstroom, as well as fly-fishing farms and estates in the Drakensberg.

Already the proposed legislation, which has been in the offing for the past eight years, has had an impact on property values. At Oak Lane Estate in Mpumalanga, stands valued at R295 000 have dropped to R165 000. At the prestigious Walkersons Estate, stand values have dropped from R1,2 million to R800 000.

Lax said the DEA had misread the National Environment Management Act (Nema), the umbrella legislation for the Biodviersity Act. He said there was a failure to appreciate that South African environmental law is anthropocentric in its orientation and implementation. He said Nema took a human rights approach to the environment.

“For a species to be defined invasive, it must be a threat to humans. If you can’t show a species is harmful to humans, it is not invasive.”

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