Fisheries Resources

I, the sometimes contrarian, have been meaning to comment on a number of Fisheries related matters for a while, and finally got started due to a CNN news slot which showed a young SA scientist talking about the need for SA to look after their Commercial fish stocks. In this she was quite right, but failed to mention our overwhelming problem of a more or less dysfunctional Government Department of Sea Fisheries, being part of the Ministry of Environment and Fisheries. Kelly (I didn’t catch her surname) then went on to describe eloquently the magnificence of the annual KwaZulu Natal Sardine run, described as “the greatest shoal on earth.” This is hardly true, of course, except that it probably is, in terms of a marine spectacle frequently visible so close inshore that people from all over the world used to come to South Coast of that province to experience the phenomenon. Therefore, it is as important a tourist attraction in its own way, as, say, a visit to a game reserve, and I am sure after Covid they will be back again.

It then appeared that she and other scientists were motivating the need to protect it, I presume by banning fishing from the coast or boat during the run. Of course, people will tell you it does not happen every year, but in fact it does. It is an annual spawning migration, which can progress, dependant on weather, current, wind, and temperature, as far north as Richards Bay, or end in Transkei. It is when cooler inshore temperatures prevail that it becomes available as a public spectacle, otherwise remains offshore. This winter everything was right and it was spectacular.

However what would banning fishing for the sardines and accompanying gamefish and sharks along the Natal coast achieve. Scientists should motivate actions to be taken, when there is solid data to back up their theories, and not make public statements that they believe some of the public might want to hear. It is mostly sharks that the recreational fisherman land, and 95% plus of these are returned to the water. There are some 20 active trek-net licences used, and the small quantity of Sardine landed is insignificant out of a resource of many tens of thousand, if not in the hundreds of thousand tons. ORI probably know what the landings are. Without the excitement of the trek-netters, who create both jobs and cheap food, the spectacle would be substantially reduced.

I am not a scientist, but have had the fisheries sciences as my hobby my whole life, and fished Sardine commercially as a purse-seine skipper for a large part of it. There are possibly as many as five distinct resources of Sardine/Pilchard (Sardinops sagax) along our and Namibia’s coastlines. In my youth, they were all thought to be one, and I was the first to postulate that this probably was wrong. The northern Namibian resource stretched from just north of Baios de Tigres at the southern end of Angola to south of Walvis Bay Then there was a much smaller resource from Hollams Bird Island to south of the Orange River. I do know whether this ever got identified as a separate resource, or simply a satellite of the main Namibian resource in times of plenty. There was no DNA information in those days. Those times have passed, though, with correct management and controls, could undoubtedly return, unless nature seriously interferes. Then we have a south western resource from Lamberts Bay to Gansbaai, a south eastern resource (Agulhas Banks) from Gansbaai to Mosselbaai, and lastly the Port Elizabeth resource, which gives rise to the Natal sardine run. The validity of all of these must now have been determined by DNA testing, with which I am no longer up to date.

The next subject that I would like to comment on is the FINSA article on Yellowfin Tuna. It noted, I read, the international body for all Tuna species (ICAT) were getting concerned that the combined reported catches of these fish wordwide were indicating that an unsustainable amount thereof was been landed annually The suggestion then followed that new regulations needed to be implemented to control the level of landings.

Your readers may remember that the same fears arose about the longfin (skipjack) tuna resources, being a major contributor to South African commercial and recreational fisheries. Both Yellowfin and Longfin tuna resources are found in most of planet’s oceans, and both are known to be capable of travelling long distances. In this instance, I was certainly one of the first to suggest that my gut-feel was to believe that a separate Longfin resource was apparent of our south-west coastline, which DNA testing subsequently proved. Yes, it was possible that a part of any independent resource might break away to reinforce or create another resource. However, I am not sure that research has confirmed these possible movements yet.

This gut-feel had been motivated for two reasons; the first being the fact that it had been established through DNA testing that the concentrations of the common brown prawn, Penaeus indicus (Indian/Mozambique prawn) and associated species were different resources along the East African Coastline, often separated by only a few hundred sea miles from each other. The second arose through my understanding, as a commercial and recreational fisherman for tuna, that you could often forecast their presence according to the season and general marine environment at any given time.

Yellowfin tuna juveniles off our east and south-west African coastlines appear to have an apparent northerly annual migration into the Indian Oceans. Nevertheless, their regular occurrence of all sizes in the same areas in South African waters begs the same question that arose in respect of Longfin. However, there surely must have been research into this aspect of which I am not aware.

The last comment I wish to make is the importance, unfortunately coupled with the ineptitude, of the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative. The Sea Fisheries division of the Department of Environmental Affairs publically supports this initiative, but certainly makes no effort to produce regulations towards this support. If both wish to live up to their stated aim to ensure the sustainability of our magnificent and copious fish resources, it is pointless to differ so widely in their actions. As far as the Department is concerned, sufficient to say that we are all aware of its incapability of performing the tasks expected of it. This hardly makes it an exception in the mainly dysfunctional abilities of nearly all government departments. This fact was recently, quite unnecessarily, acknowledged by our President, who was trying to reassure international investors that now we are aware of the problem we can fix it. Cyril simply confirmed one his longstanding nicknames of “the unaware,” despite the fact that we have all known the problem for decades!

However, SASSI are probably even more to blame with their inconsistencies in their listings. Over the years, I have regularly pointed these out, but to absolutely no avail, irrespective of the above. I will repeat but a few in a continuing effort to get them to listen, but I have never seen or received any motivation as to why they consider themselves Right. Wrong, and they actually defeat all their endeavours to be taken seriously, which is a great pity as their efforts could be a considerable source of good for the well been our resources and industry!

· They must please leave out species that do not occur in our coastal waters.

· They must please leave out species that are NOT normally considered a source of food or targeted.

· Forget about most species, whose landing or retention is banned, as they are virtually never targeted by recreational anglers, let alone commercials. It simply complicates the listings to no avail.

· What is this about only pole caught tuna. What rubbish! I suppose their motivation is bycatch landed by long liners. Regulations deal with this problem adequately, and their scientists obviously have little idea of the % thereof.

· No locally farmed yellowtail, when there are none. More’s the pity, as their sale would help protect the wild resources! One of our largest fishing companies was making considerable progress in this regard, only to be driven away by the local Council’s unwarranted prejudice about fish farming. A year or two later the Council reversed their attitude saying it had shown positive signs of job creation. The company, having already invested several million in research and start up, took the sensible decision of ”once bitten, twice shy.”

· Skates have a very limited marketability, and rays almost none. I am unsure that there is any meaningful stats to suggest that such species are overfished. The original problem of them and shallow water sharks not been returned to the water during competition angling, has long been resolved by the fishing clubs.

· Inshore shallow water trawlers, inevitably have a percentage of kob and redfish as bycatch, and how on earth is the retailer, let alone the consumer, able to establish how it was caught anyhow. A certain amount of table fish must be supplied to the local and tourist consumer in a country with over 3000 kilometres of coastline. The Department and the scientists have to calculate how much can be landed, so as to allow the propagation of the resource the ability to ensure both its replacement plus a small level of rebuilding every year, controlling exploitation accordingly. However, if the Department is unable to effect adequate compliance, as is the present situation, all will be in vain anyhow!

These are only a few of the mistakes or inconsistencies in the lists, simply to verify my point of view.

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