Call for moratorium on octopus fishing after whale dies in nets

2019-06-27 19:25
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The removal of a dead humpback whale from octopus fishing lines on Thursday has spurred on the City of Cape Town to call for an urgent moratorium on the exploratory octopus permit. 

This follows the discovery of a whale floating about 500m off Sunny Cove in False Bay on Wednesday, and its subsequent removal at first light on Thursday.

"On arrival, the officials were able to determine that the humpback was entangled in an octopus fishery line and had drowned," said the City's mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt. 

The carcass was cut loose and towed to the Miller's Point slipway for removal to a landfill site, with the help of the octopus fishing boat.  

Nieuwoudt said this was the third entanglement and second fatality as a result of octopus fishing in the last two weeks and all have occurred within the designated marine protected area. 

"We are aware that livelihoods and jobs depend on the octopus fishing industry, however we have to insist on sustainable practices. We cannot allow a situation where whales continue to die, because of these nets," she added.

WATCH: Mommy humpback whale rescued from fishing line tangle off St Francis coast

Nieuwoudt said the former department of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries had issued the exploratory octopus permit about 17 years ago, allegedly without consulting the City.

In 2017, after the drowning of a Bryde's whale, the City asked the department to set limits as a condition of the permit, but this was ignored. 

The permits were intended to assess the techniques, economics, population and biology and management of a possible future commercial octopus fishing industry, according to a published notice by the environmental affairs department in 2003.

"Clearly, there is an urgent need to design fishing gear that would not lead to the drowning of whales."

Nieuwoudt explained that when whales swam into the long ropes, they rolled over, and became entangled. 

They eventually drown because they cannot get to the surface.  

"Thus, we want to see the fishery suspended until the method of fishing is changed to a sustainable practice that will prevent any bycatches."

Until this is remedied, the City wants Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy to place a moratorium on the permit, and have all fishing gear removed from False Bay until the gear and equipment are redesigned, tested, and proven not be a threat to marine life.

In addition to the danger to marine life, the removal of whales caught in nets costs between R50 000 to R150 000 depending on the weather and where the carcass is.

"We are now considering invoicing the fishing company or the national government for the removal cost and disposal," said Nieuwoudt.  

The department's spokesperson, Albi Modise, said it was in contact with its counterparts in the Western Cape and would comment later. It will be added when received. 

In the meantime, a petition has been started on change.org to stop octopus fishing in False Bay. The petition states that this is not only perilous to the sea life, but also to boats in the area. 

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