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Fishing | Recreational fishing | SurveySACRAA strongly opposes a proposal to allow subsistence angling in a Marine Protected Area. Photo: Nicol du Toit.
January 2016

Data required to

ensure future of recreational angling

The long term sustainability of the fishing tackle industry depends on the long-term availability of fishing stock. SACRAA is opposing proposals by the authorities that could threaten this viability, namely gillnet fishing by a commercial enterprise in South Africa’s second largest dam and subsistence fishing in the Tsitsikamma MPA. But, in order to convince the authorities of the negative impact of these proposals, the organisation is calling on industry members to help them conduct a study to determine the value of recreational fishing to the South African economy and local communities

Just how valuable is the contribution of the recreational fisher to the South African economy? If it can be shown that recreational fishing contributes as much as commercial fishing — if not more — to the economy and the survival of local communities, authorities will have to lend equal weight to proposals and arguments from both fishing sectors.

The equipment used by recreational anglers alone could contribute a considerable sum: apart from rods and reels and other gear, anglers use boats and all the necessary equipment to fit them out, as well as shelters, chairs, tents, freezers, and many other items to make the fishing trip more comfortable.

In addition, a recreational angler pays for petrol — especially if he uses a boat — and accommodation, food and restaurant meals during the fishing trip. He will also make numerous other contributions to local communities close to his fishing destination — like buying bait, refreshments, fishing licenses, etc. More often than not, his family will accompany him — or a group of friends will go on a trip together.

The South African Consolidated Recreational Anglers Association (SACRAA), in partnership with Rhodes University’s Department of Ichthyology, will this year be conducting an impact study to assess the economic impact of recreational fishing in South Africa.

And they are calling on industry members to alert consumers and fishermen to the study and inform them how important it would be for them to participate in it.

This study will quantify the worth of recreational fishing to those involved in the industry — retailers, suppliers, manufacturers, etc. — and help estimate the expenditure of anglers, the number of jobs created through recreational fishing, the revenue from taxes and income to the national economy.

The research results will be used to convince policy makers to improve management of recreational fishery and empower them to make more informed decisions.

From early 2016, SACRAA will distribute questionnaires to anglers via fishing tackle stores, various website and social media pages, and angling magazines. They will also be conducting face-to-face interviews in order to ensure that they reach as many recreational anglers as possible.

The project will be undertaken by international experts as well as scientists from six local institutions: Rhodes University, University of the North West, University of Cape Town, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Oceanographic Research Institute and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Commercial fishery threat

This data would especially be valuable when negotiating with authorities proposing to change policy that could potentially threaten popular recreational fishing stock.

For example, since January 2015 SACRAA has been representing recreational anglers and SASACC (the controlling body of organized sport angling in South Africa) on an advisory committee considering the proposed development of a small-scale commercial fishery on South Africa’s second biggest dam, Vanderkloof, on the Orange River. The organisation was asked to oppose this development by concerned recreational anglers who attended a public meeting where the proposal was tabled.

The Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (ALRRD) proposed the commercial fishery to address the high levels of poverty and unemployment and poor food security in the surrounding rural communities. They appointed the Rural Fisheries Programme of Rhodes University to investigate the feasibility of the project through an experimental fishery designed to mimic a small-scale fishery. The data gathered during this experimental phase will be used to assess the sustainability and economic feasibility of a long-term small-scale commercial fishery.

An Experimental Fishery Management Plan (EFMP) has been developed by Rhodes University and has undergone several reviews by the advisory committee. “While SACRAA supports initiatives that promote equal access to resources and acknowledge that the development of rural inland fisheries are needed, we do not support that this must be achieved at all costs,” says chairman John Pledger. “Each proposed fishery needs to be assessed on its merits and must adhere to the existing legal framework.”

They especially oppose the proposed use of gillnets by the fishery due to the threat this poses to the largemouth yellowfish, which is a nationally listed threatened species and THE prize angling species for many fly fishermen and art-lure anglers both locally and internationally, explains Pledger. “Vanderkloof Dam is considered by many to be the premier destination for the catching of this species and the trophy-size specimens that the venue regularly produces are a matter of record.”

SACRAA therefore has serious reservations about the inclusion of gillnets as a method of capture. “The nets are indiscriminate and are effective at catching a wide range of species, including the largemouth yellow.

The advisory committee, however, rejected their request to exclude gillnets from the experimental fishery in order to protect the species and the catch and release fishing-based industry — and livelihoods associated with it. Instead, it has been proposed that a two-year experimental process be followed that allows the use of a range of gear types (gillnets, rod and line, longline, Fyke nets and seine nets), and that catch data is analysed every three months.

“SACRAA remains adamant that the use of gillnets is not appropriate in the Vanderkloof scenario and that alternatives that exclude them are available.”

They base their opposition on legal principles, especially the provisions in the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEM: BA) referring to listed species and the intention of the Act regarding commercial fishing of listed species.

“Legal provisions such as these can, however be complex in the way they relate to other aspects of legislation and can usually be subject to different interpretation,” says Pledger. “As such, in addition to our numerous submissions to the Vanderkloof Advisory Committee to date, SACRAA will obtain a formal legal opinion on the matter, which will also be submitted to both the advisory and steering committee.”

At the time of going to print no final decision had been made on the approval of the project. “If it appears that the committees wish to proceed with the proposed experimental fishery in its current format — despite our reservations — we reserve the right (and have made it clear to the advisory committee) to take matters further and challenge this through the courts,” says Pledger.

SACRAA is not opposed to a rural fishery to operate alongside the recreational fishery at Vanderkloof, per se. “If the largemouth yellow was not a factor, or if gillnets were excluded, we would fully support the fishery either as a small-scale commercial operation — if viable — or a subsistence-based operation like the one that operates on Lake Gariep,” says Pledger. “As it stands we oppose it not just on the grounds that a recreational angling trophy species and the industry and livelihoods associated with it need to be protected, but also on the grounds that the largemouth yellow is worthy of protection in its own right.

“National environmental legislation recognises that the largemouth yellow is a species under threat and has deemed it worthy of special consideration.

SACRAA will continue to represent recreational angling interests at Vanderkloof until this process has run its course, and is committed to doing the same wherever it is needed,” he concludes.

Subsistence fishing in MPA

SACRAA is also opposing the draft regulations for the rezoning of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA) to allow for subsistence farming in selected areas. The draft regulations were recently published for public comment by the Minister of Environmental Affairs. “The most alarming of the proposed regulations provides for the access to four controlled zones along the shore-line, by a select group of anglers, to fish and collect bait,” says Pledger.

The entire MPA has been demarcated as no-take since 2001. “Allowing access to exploit living resources does not in any way conform to this purpose and severely undermines the integrity of the MPA — as well as the public’s confidence in SANParks (the managing authority) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), argues SACRAA.

Decades of research in MPAs provided much data that proves that even moderate levels of fishing pressure will have an adverse effect on most fish species, and ultimately the purpose of an MPA’s existence.

Political pressure applied

The Tsitsikamma MPA plays a significant role in fish conservation by protecting species that are severely threatened due to overexploitation, the State of Management of South Africa’s MPAs report of 2009 showed. The report listed the threats to the MPA as illegal fishing and political pressure to allow local communities access to fish.

“In 2007 political pressure was used in an attempt to gain access for local communities,” reports Pledger. “The initiative was defeated, thanks to massive opposition from the public and scientific institutions.”

Now, political pressure is once again being applied, argues SACRAA, even though “nothing has changed in terms of the impact such an undertaking would have. The risks to the functioning of the MPA far outweigh the benefits that would be enjoyed by a small section of the population.”

According to the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy 2008 (NPAES), the current network of protected areas in South Africa falls far short of being able to sustain biodiversity and ecological processes, says Pledger. “In order to reach just a quarter of the 20-year NPAES targets, an additional 59km of no-take inshore zone needs to be added, and yet the DEA are proposing that the no-take area be reduced instead. These regulations undermine the NPAES as well as conservation and research efforts from the past 50 years.”

The current proposal was motivated by the need to provide recreation and food security to communities that had historical access to the areas prior to the declaration of the MPA.

SACRAA, however, points out that the activities will neither be sustainable, nor will they be carried out in a manner that preserves the ecological character of the MPA.

“Many of the target species are highly resident, slow growing fish that are extremely vulnerable to even moderate levels of fishing effort,” says Pledger. “Their exploitation is not sustainable, as is evidenced from declining, and in some instances, collapsed stocks in areas where fishing does take place.”

They further argue that the DEA did not follow due process, as detailed in their own environmental legislation, when considering these regulations. “There has been no risk assessment, there is no indication that potential impacts have been assessed or that the effects of fishing in the MPA have received any attention. The opportunity for adequate and meaningful public participation has also not been provided for. No information has been provided that will enable the public to contribute from an informed base.”

The organisation further believes that a pilot project supposedly as a test to assess the feasibility of opening the four zones permanently is nothing more than an attempt by SANParks to appease local community members.

“The pilot project is not a risk assessment and will achieve nothing; the feasibility of fishing sustainably in MPAs has been assessed by researchers for decades and the conclusion is that it is not achievable,” says Pledger.

Furthermore, they argue that it is unconstitutional to establish controlled zones to allow fishing for the exclusive use by Tsitsikamma anglers (members of any community in the Koukamma Municipality and Covie residents).

“The proposed zoning for the use by Tsitsikamma anglers excludes all other South Africans and is the worst form of exclusivity at the expense of others,” says Pledger. “There is no form of equality in this and it is unconstitutional.”

This implies that even people who recently moved to Covie or Koukamma will be allowed access, while everybody else is excluded. “This is completely irrational and demonstrates that the only reason for the regulations is to allow for the exclusive use of the MPAs resources by a select few who happen to have the correct residential address.

“The MPA was established in the national interest in order to protect a unique habitat, biodiversity and enhance fish stocks by providing a safe haven for them to feed, grow and, in most cases, reproduce.”

No food security

“The proposed regulation that stipulates each registered angler may only fish for a maximum of four days per month is particularly telling as it demonstrates that this has little to do with providing for communities that have no food-security and everything to do with providing a select few with the privilege of fishing in a pristine MPA.”

SACRAA also believes that species like dusky kob, black steenbras, yellowbelly rockcod and roman, found in the MPA, should be added to the list of prohibited species because their stocks have all-but collapsed. “The combined factors of slow growth rate, longevity and high degree of residency make them extremely susceptible to over-exploitation.”

In addition, SANParks does not have the required capacity to ensure any level of meaningful compliance. “The zones will need to be patrolled daily as the enforcement of the four-day per month access limit alone will require full-time monitoring,” argues SACRAA.

Many other sections of the shoreline are also easily accessible, which will have to be patrolled to curtail the current illegal fishing activities in these areas.

“If the DEA intends to pursue this option of allowing access for fishers, SANParks will need to provide a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement strategy that proves they have capacity to enforce these regulations. This strategy should be made available to the DEA as well as all stakeholders for comment prior to any further consideration being given to these Regulations.”

Should these regulations become law, it will set a very dangerous precedent for other no-take MPAs and greatly hinder the proclamation of new MPAs. “Anglers need to accept that they are one of the main reasons for the decline in our fish stocks, but they can also be a part of the solution by recognizing the vital role no-take MPAs play in helping preserve biodiversity for future generations. Finally, the DEA has not followed due process in the drafting of these regulations and they need to be withdrawn.”

SACRAA was established as an umbrella body for everybody involved with any aspect of recreational angling. See

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