HEAVY fishing is taking its toll on the country’s marine life, putting the R6 billion industry at some risk.
At stake are 27 000 jobs and the future of key ocean species.
This was the upshot of a report by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), released yesterday after a delay of months.
The findings revealed that various species of fish and marine life in South Africa’s waters were at critical levels.
Greta Apelgren-Narkedien, deputy director-general at DAFF and head of the fisheries unit, said that medium-sized fisheries were in trouble because resources were depleted in some coastal areas.
Most species suffered from heavy fishing, while others suffered from the migration of rival species, which led to competition for food.
Speaking at a media briefing in Durban, Apelgren-Narkedien said the department had reached a point where it needed to spread awareness about the problem because it found itself in a position where even law enforcement officials were unsure of the correct procedures to follow, and often found it hard to arrest or fine people for illegal fishing.
“We want to do as many conferences as possible so that we can know what is happening with these resources,” she said.
The 67-page report, compiled by scientists, has identified the following marine life as heavily depleted: abalone, highly prized as a delicacy in the Far East; deep water hake; line fish such as silver kob and yellowtail; and net fish such as harders and white steenbras.
The stock status of shallow water prawns has also reached a depleted state, as have South and West Coast rock lobster.
Poaching was also a contributor to dwindling stocks.
Between 2000 and 2010, about 49 million tons of abalone was poached. More than 10 million tons of the product was confiscated in the same period.
Apelgren-Narkedien said the department had implemented a series of total allowable catches (TAC) to combat the problem, and had also invested in monitoring and surveillance equipment.
Last month, DAFF approved a TAC for West Coast rock lobster of 2 425 tons for the 2012/13 fishing season, which was lambasted by experts as too high.
The TAC for Patagonian toothfish was reduced by 20%. For abalone, the TAC stands at 50 tons and it is only allowed to be fished in certain areas in the Western Cape.
Apelgren-Narkedien said the majority of fishermen knew the limits they could catch, and as a result of the stringent measures that have been put in place, a lot of people who rely on seafood stocks for survival have been frustrated.
Even major companies such as I&J and small to medium enterprises in the industry had a limit.
According to the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, 85% of the world’s fish stocks were over-exploited or have been exploited to their maximum since 2010.
The Responsible Fisheries Programme said the many sectors that engaged in fishing and the different methods used to catch fish ensured that SA’s fish stock could “not replenish itself fast enough”.