On Friday 26 March, the South African National Parks (SANParks) released a statement detailing the arrest of two suspected abalone poachers.
The arrest took place at Gifkommetjie in the Cape of Good Hope Section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).
The suspects were reportedly in possession of West Coast Rock Lobster (WCRL) without a permit.
This is the latest in a string of arrests for the possession of WCRL. Early in February suspects were arrested for being in possession of 730 lobster tails.
This is concerning from an environmental perspective, as the species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
According to SANParks’ public relations officer, Babalwa Dlangamandla, this “lobster is in high demand.
“Syndicates pay good money to influence poachers in illegal catching of a lobster. Currently, lobster sells at R150 per kg.
Poachers are only interested in lobster tails looking at our recent arrests and confiscations, meaning in the black market, lobster tails are more in demand compared to lobster in a whole state,” she says.
What is not considered by poachers is that overfishing of this marine resource is detrimental to the well-being of the marine ecosystem.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature – Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-SASSI) placed the “spiny lobster” on the Red List as its dwindling numbers indicate it is dangerously close to extinction.
“Poaching is our main challenge as both poachers and permit right holders catch undersized (lobster) and also lobsters in berry (with eggs), which may possibly push the species into depletion or extinction,” explained Dlangamandla.
“The minimum size is 80 mm (3,15 inches), which is measured from the tip of the centre horn to the end of the body, where the tail starts.
“Catching undersized lobster less than 80 mm affects their life cycle as the lobster was still in a growing stage and had not yet reached the maturity stage. This has a negative impact on reproduction, as in future there will not be enough lobsters to mate and ensure the population is sustained through the reproduction process.”
While the legal size of the lobster is often disregarded by poachers, the total catchment size is another contributing factor to the depletion of the species.
Bringing into perspective the 730 lobster tails found in February, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (Deff) announced at the beginning of the season: “The 2020-’21 WCRL recreational fishing effort is limited to 12 days between 28 November (last year) and 3 April (this year). WCRL may be caught between 08:00 until 16:00 daily.
“The bag limit is four per person per day. No person catching WCRL with a recreational fishing permit may sell their catch. Any lobster caught, collected or transported must be kept whole.”
Additionally, the total allowable catch (Tac) of the lobster for the entire 2020-’21 season (commercial and recreational) is 837 tons, but policing this – aside from active law enforcement to combat poaching – is near impossible.
“We conduct daily patrols in collaboration with City of Cape Town marine law enforcement unit in the form of visible policing on land and at sea targeting known or targeted poaching hotspots,” Dlangamandla says. “SANParks need support from local or adjacent communities to the park to assist with information in order to curb lobster poaching.”
TMNP park manager Frans van Rooyen said in a statement these partnerships have helped to apprehend a number of suspected poachers.
“The teams have been conducting daily sea patrols in the Marine Protected Areas of TMNP to fight against poaching that threatens the marine resources.
“We really appreciate the assistance and support we are getting from the City of Cape Town Marine Law Enforcement Unit and the police,” Van Rooyen concludes.
“I’d also like to thank the TMNP rangers for a spectacular job well done.”