Troubled waters ahead

2014-05-06 00:00

IN the past month, I have reported on issues surrounding trout and other animal and plant species declared invasive alien species (IAS). These resulted from the amendments to the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Nemba) that were promulgated in July 2013, followed in February by a list of 352 IAS plus draft regulations to manage them, which were made available for public comment prior to them being passed into law.

Two of the species on the list were rainbow and brown trout. The intention is to declare trout as invasive in all nature reserves, all mountain catchment reserves and all fish sanctuary areas.

Last month at the Nottingham Road Hotel, TroutSA, together with the Federation of South African Fly Fishers (Fosaf), held a meeting, one of a series being staged around the country to highlight their concerns about the pending legislation and garner support for the legal battles that might lie ahead.

Their position is simple: they believe that the legislation is aimed at destroying the trout-fishing industry, which is worth an estimated R1,4 billion.

The trout industry consists of trout hatcheries and trout waters, as well as a sector of the hospitality industry plus trout-based real estate in such places as Clarens, Rhodes and Dullstroom, not forgetting the many fly-fishing farms and estates in the Drakensberg area.

The proposed legislation has seemingly already 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.

However, Guy Preston, deputy director-general for environmental programmes at the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), says the proposed legislation regarding IAS will have no additional impact on legal farming or fishing of trout. “It is regrettable that this lobbying is portraying the legislation as being a threat to the industry, as this is devoid of truth,” Preston told The Witness .

Preston said that the proposed national legislation will actually reduce the requirement for permits for trout, compared with what is required by the different provinces at present. Rather than the blanket requirement for permits for the two trout species, a permit will be required for trout in national parks, provincial nature reserves, mountain catchment areas and forestry reserves, declared in terms of the Protected Areas Act. A permit will also be required for stocking in rivers and wetlands, and for aqua-culture facilities.

Outside of these areas, trout will be exempted (i.e. will not require a permit) for all freshwater bodies in which they are formally documented to occur.

“Permits will be considered for trout in new areas”, said Preston, “but we shall ensure that the presence of critically endangered or endangered indigenous fish species, guided by the Fish Sanctuary Areas, will be factored in to the risk assessment for any such applications.”

It is the Fish Sanctuary Areas that have TroutSA and Fosaf worried. According to the maps produced by the DEA, these sanctuaries are in many of the prime trout-fishing areas. They fear implementation of the Nemba will see trout eradicated from these areas.

According to Fosaf’s national chairperson, Ilan Lax, the law is clear: “If categorised as invasive, trout must be eradicated, or, if this is not possible, prevented from propagating. The reserves and so-called fish sanctuary areas where trout are to be listed as invasive covers almost all of KwaZulu-Natal’s premier trout waters. Trout must be eradicated in these areas if Preston and his department get their way.”

It’s laudable that in a bid to protect SA’s rich biodiversity, IAS be targeted. In some cases, particularly that of invasive plants, there is no case to be made for their protection or retention.

But there are plenty of ironies here, trout and Indian Mynas might be on the IAS list, but you won’t find any of the pines, wattles and gums that now cover KwaZulu-Natal’s once grass-covered rolling hills. Why not? Because they are considered to be a valuable part of the country’s economy. You can add plenty of other species that are presumably permitted on the same basis, such as cattle, pigs and poultry.

There are also questions around how far do you attempt to put the clock back? Taken to its logical conclusion, we might as well all head back to the Olduvai Gorge or the Sterkfontein caves or wherever else we (I’m speaking humans here) are supposed to have come from. Can you even turn the clock back? Most authorities accept that the best you can do with an IAS once it has gained a foothold is contain it, and that eradication is impossible.

Is the trout industry right to be worried?

Yes, on one level it’s an easy target because its various entities run as businesses and businesses are controlled by regulations. Many of these businesses operate on the basis of licences and permits, renewable on an annual basis, that could easily be refused. The industry is also vulnerable at its base — the trout hatcheries. There are around 40, all run on a permit basis. Close them and you have cut off the industry at its root. Clearly more controversy lies ahead.

• Stephen Coan is a senior writer at The Witness.

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