Our declining line-fish resources

OUR DECLINING LINE-FISH RESOURCES

I do not know where to start, but I do think I know where to start getting to the end of the dilemma, created over the years by nobody but ourselves, ably assisted by the various Departments of Fisheries, which, in its present form, has finally become almost defunct. We must now deal with the present, forget the history of what has gone on before, and see to its rebuilding from Scratch, where necessary, as should be the case with so many of our Government’s other dysfunctional structures. Unless, this happens the decline of all our inshore resources, of which line-fish is the greatest, will simply continue.

Today, as always, I straddle the river of my limited knowledge, one foot amongst the Commons – the Recreational Users (abusers?), – where I belong, and the other on the side of the licensed Commercials, where I also belong. Hovering, over the lot of us are the scientists, whom we could never do without, and the other well-meaning organisations, like WWF, SASSI, Whale Watchers, and other NGOs, who could do so much, but seldom get it right! I only wish that I could stand in the middle of all of them. Only our respective Gods can stand on water. However, appropriate that I, mere male mortal, have those parts, which afford me the only truly God-like act I am capable of, procreation, hanging over that elusive centre line of practicality, theory, pragmatism, and perfection. Obvious that procreation is a very crux of the successful management of marine resources, and, after 70 years of living on, around, or in, that environment, just maybe I have gained a little, but enough, wisdom to make the following suggestions!

In my opinion, there are five factors that are crucial to the effective sustainable management of our inshore resources. These are:

· Anything to do with the inshore environment of the sea and estuaries, and the seashore up to 100 m above the average spring high tide contour, should fall under the main responsibility of any department of sea fisheries. This includes use of and access to the beaches, behaviour in respect of the other parts of the shoreline, and access to launch or moor any type of craft.

· The so-called differentiation between Recreationals, and Commercial activities, including such as whale or dolphin watching, shark diving, group scuba-diving, etc., should be forgotten! All impact the exploitable inshore resources and their environment. Today, with so many of our population unable to find work, the emphasis is being placed more and more on artisanal and micro scale fishery activities. Acknowledging that this is comparable to recreational activities, these sectors are clearly all one of the same!

· If one is going to control anything successfully, clearly you need firstly rules and regulations to guide the controllers, who must make up a totally effective Compliance Structure.

· The question of size limits may seem a relatively small and unimportant factor in the management of marine fish resources, but it is not. Today we know that the larger the spawning adults, the far greater number of eggs they produce, with the strong possibility that such spawn’s survival rate, compared to the spawn of younger fish of most species, is much higher. In addition to the above, you have to acknowledge that natural predation on the juveniles of most species is much greater than on older fish. Therefore, catching them, as part of bag limits, by Recreationals and Artisanal fishers, will allow more and larger adults to spawn. This should then increase the overall quantity and quality of the resource’s reproductive ability.

However, size limits would still have to apply to Commercials, and boat operating Mini-Commercials (SSF), so as to avoid their ability to target shoaling juveniles, which are often easier to catch.

Lastly, paramount to these possible changes would be the strict control of bag limits (Recreational limits are still too high) with the same applying to all sectors in respect of non-saleable species, with some possible adjustments for saleable species by Mini-Commercials.

· The last factor is so obvious that I cannot understand that anybody, wishing to maintain sustainability of our Line-fish resources, has ignored it for some forty years. The arguments that have been voiced from time to time include suggesting that you cannot prevent a ‘private’ boat owner launching from wherever he chooses, nor can you prevent a licensed Commercial from following the shoals of fish and doing the same. What utter, utter, rubbish! How on earth do you control and reduce exploitation in that way with no controlled recording of catches, or applying regulations on landings?

No my friends think about it, and, if you really want to see our Inshore species exploited sustainably and recovering, albeit slowly, there is no leg whatsoever for any counter arguments to stand on. All boats predating on line-fish must be limited, in the case of Commercials to a single point of entry and subsequent landings, where the necessary officialdom is in attendance 24/7, weather permitting. As far as Recreationals are concerned, they must be limited to launch sites where full time monitoring occurs. This will enable the recording of everything relevant by the department, so that they can supply the information required by the scientists to control sustainable exploitation coupled to regrowth of the various species.

More on all of the above now follows, and my very first comment is about the new Small Scale Fishing Regulations. They are more than ten years old with very little concrete having happened yet? Thank goodness! However, the Department now seems to have unilaterally expanded these to include Small and Medium enterprises as well, by allocating large percentages of unquantified line-fish resources, (as well as resources, such as crayfish and Squid). Why can they not simply deal with such percentages as part of normal allocation of rights? A very large proportion of fishing rights holders, particularly again those enjoying in- or nearshore rights are SME’s, so what is going on? No! It seems that the method of empowering more blacks must rather be done behind the imaginary veil of so-called community Co-Ops. Little progress in that direction has occurred in every case, where they have tried so far! These arrangements have simply broken down as a result of infighting and disagreement, with no sign of a viable solution. I fear that there can never be one with this concept! What were they dreaming about! We all appreciate the Government’s dual aim of controlling everything and handing that control to only blacks by taking by any means such rights from other race groups. So be it, for however wrong it clearly is, that is not my discussion point or my argument here!

I distrust the SSF Co-op aspirations, in which I appear to be right both in fact and assumption. Co-ops cannot be formed by decree, as this only leads to disagreement, and resultant corruption of one sort or another. They can only be formed voluntarily by participants already operating in similar activities, if the right leader appears. They must then find total support in the communities within which they operate, which in itself is a difficult task, and they still then run the risk of poor management and leadership, which again opens them up to abuse. However, with a Government seeking control everything, it is common sense to acknowledge that they should in the case of natural resources, which, in certain respects, require it. Fishery resource management is clearly one of these, and one would wish that they could make a success first of where it is needed, rather than have the unreasonable ambition to control everything about South African people’s lives all at the same time!

There are five definable groups//sectors who exploit line-fish stocks.

1. The Recreationals; rocks, surf, estuary and boat fishermen, make up probably the largest predators on the resources, especially because of poor compliance arrangements, and virtually no meaningful records of landings.

2. The Commercials are next, and even here the amount and identification of their landings is more than questionable.

3. Then come the artisanals, whose potential landings in the future are frightening. However with them you must couple the enormous number of illegals, and whatever exists as Co-ops, probably much of whose catches may be illegal anyhow. This results in an unknown but almost certain total landings that may well compete with those of either of the first two.

4. Now we come to the inshore bottom trawlers. Firstly the Sole trawling fleet out of Mosselbaai, which catch a very small proportion overall of line-fish as bycatch, and the inshore prawn trawlers off the Tugela Banks, where the same applies. However the latter have not been operating for many years, because of the lack of inshore prawn due the closure of the mouth of St Lucia lake system being their main estuarine nursery area. The total take of these participants represents a completely insignificant amount of all line-fish landings.

The ‘cake’ made up of all the line-fish species caught by the above is only a certain size. Firstly, its size has to be determined to the best of the scientists’ ability for all resources saleable and non-saleable, and then it must be decided on a sustainable basis who may catch what. This must be done on the principle that the remaining biomass of a species can reasonably propagate enough new recruits to replace what has been caught annually, plus a reasonable amount towards rebuilding it. Determining this accurately will take five to ten years, if there develops proper recording of landings, so best conservative estimates will have to be made initially. If, finally, proper accurate recording is implemented, the scientists should soon be able to recognise trends in availability, be they up or down, and therefore how to readjust allowable landings for all parties. So maximum correct recording, coupled with effort decrease, would be the first targets sought.

As far as Recreationals go, firstly consider the bag limits, and then ban all fishing after dark. Then restrict their right to launch any type of sea-craft to venues which are registered as such. They would be commercial harbours, club controlled launching sites, or those controlled by a lodge, hotel, recreation site, business facility, or any other entity who accepts responsibility to record all launches or departures, see to the full recording of all landings, and finally compliance with all regulations. As far as all licenced rock and surf coastal fishermen, including artisanals, are concerned, they must be required to report all outings monthly with their landings by species. Obviously, it will be impossible to enforce full compliance, but the regulations must state that, if you are found in non-compliance in any way, your licence will be cancelled. A degree of public cooperation and support must be sought, with the help of angling clubs, towards the same culture that has developed in respect of catch and release.

Commercials must, first and foremost, be limited, as with all other rights holders in the fishing industry, to operating from a fixed venue designated in their application and then licence document. These venues must only be harbours having Fisheries inspectors and managers. All voyages and landings must then be checked and recorded by these personnel, whenever relevant on a 24 hour basis. Charter boat operators, whether non-consumptive or not, must all fall under this determination. Off course, the decision will have to be made as to how many relevant licences can be accommodated at each venue, not only in regard to the facilities, but also their likely exploitation level on resource availability in the area they will fish.

Here is an example of my thinking on a small portion of the South Coast between Gansbaai and Stilbaai based on the principle of a maximum of one to ten units.

Gansbaai: 10 C (commercial skiboats) – A (artisanal small craft) – 4 CB (charter fishing boats subject to Recreational catch regulations) – 4 CBnc (charter boats for non- fishing activities),

Kleinbaai: 3 C – 3 A – 0 CB – 10 CBnc.

Pearly Beach: No launching as with other venues with no monitoring ability!

Struisbaai: 10 C – 3 A – 3 CB–3 CBnc.

Arniston: 10 C – 2 A – 2 CB – 2 CBnc.

Cape Infanta/sea slip: No launching unless arrangements made to monitor.

Cape Infanta/river: No launching unless offices manned by Conservancy officials.

Breede River/Witsand: 3 C – 0 A – 2 CB – 3 CBnc. To launch only from the main river (NSRI) slipway, with monitoring by Conservancy. Recreationals, only from main slipway or monitored venues.

Breede River Private jetty facilities: By permit and only for residents.

Puintjie: No sea launching, and river only by permit.

Stillbaai Harbour: 10 C – 3 A – 5 CB – 2 CBnc.

These suggestions need formal consideration and are just given as an example. Provisions will have to be built in to the regulations to deal with several other factors, i.e., moored line-fish and other boats. Other complications that arise are facts and figures, such as number of commercial line fish permits in issue, and usage levels, the same for recreational boats, recreational fishing licence holders, registered commercial fishermen, artisanal and interim relief licences, ECT. No one seems able to get Sea Fisheries to supply such information that leads one to the inevitable conclusion that it is not up to date, or does not even exist. The next question, of course, would be that even if it was available how accurate would it be?

Line-fish resources, compliance control thereof, and management ability are, and have been for a long time, in a critical state. Is there really the will or wherewithal to try to do something about the whole matter? My great fear is negative as I have been writing about and studying these resources virtually my whole life and only seen their continued deterioration!

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