Bookshelf: Poacher

Poacher: Confessions from the Abalone Underworld – Kimon de Greef and Shuhood Abader

Poacher
Poacher

Abalone (perlemoen to locals) are inoffensive, slow moving marine snails, with frilly grey bodies covered by a knobbly shell that doesn’t look like anything special until you find an empty one on the beach and see the mother of pearl interior, polished for years by the body of the now-dead snail. Some people like to eat them; in Asia, many people like to eat them, and they are seen as a status symbol. They are farmed, at enormous expense and for staggering profits, at several locations along South Africa’s coast. When we visited an abalone farm in Hermanus several years ago, the tour guide told us that the demand for abalone from the east is essentially “limitless”. You can imagine, if you don’t know already, the financial temptation that such a creature might present.

Kimon de Greef is a South African journalist with a longstanding interest in perlemoen poaching and other forms of illicit trade. His reporting on abalone poaching has been longstanding, nuanced and detailed – one example here, and another here. A 2014 report (pdf) he wrote for Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is also worth a read. The second author of Poacher, Shuhood Abader (not his real name), is a former abalone poacher, and this book is his story.

Rather than a focus on statistics and an analysis of the scale of the abalone poaching problem in South Africa and how to fix it, Poacher comes at the issue in a deeply personal way, thus forcing us out of our righteous outrage and into the uncomfortable space of empathy with someone whose actions we disapprove of. We hear Abader’s story in his own words, with context provided by de Greef’s reporting and analysis.

Being a South African today is complicated. Our history gives none of us a free pass to relax into ignorant bliss, simple judgments or two dimensional interpretations of where we find ourselves and where we are going as people and a country. Yes, it might seem tiring for those of us whose privilege is showing, but the last several hundred years of our history demands a reckoning and we ought to show up for that, no matter what it requires. This reckoning extends beyond hard conversations and simple matters of ensuring everyone access to healthcare, education, property, jobs, credit, public spaces, and the like. It extends even to nature reserves and marine protected areas, those spaces that we view as sacred and untouchable. (I remind you of this discussion we had on the Tsitsikamma MPA – similar complexities exist for many, if not all the wild spaces in South Africa.)

Marine poachers are fairly visible to the scuba diving community. (Recreational divers are even mistaken for them on occasion.) The ISS has published two in depth reports (Steinberg and Goga) on the subject, some years apart. Abalone poaching is one of those issues that seems to cause particular outrage among scuba divers and the ocean-loving community, and this is, to some extent, understandable. Poacher, however, asks us to set aside that outrage and to learn another side to the story. This may disturb your equilibrium – the more the idea of there even being “another side” troubles or enrages you, the more strongly I recommend you read this book.

When Poacher was released there was excellent media coverage, which you should check out to get a flavour of the topic, and the two authors. Examples are this Daily Maverick article, detailed coverage by The Guardian, and an interview with one of the authors here. You can even read extracts from the book at the Johannesburg Review of Books, on News24, at Wits University’s Africa-China reporting project, and at the Daily Maverick. There’s a radio interview with de Greef here.

Please read this book. Get a copy at your local bookstore, online in South Africa here, or on Amazon.

If you read this in time, Kimon de Greef is discussing the book on the evening Thursday 4 July 2019 at Kalk Bay Books – phone them for details and to RSVP (essential).

City of Cape Town’s new protocol for cleaning tidal pools

Early in November I attended an information session at the Kalk Bay Community Centre, where the City of Cape Town announced that they will be trialling an environmentally friendly cleaning process on five of the 19 tidal pools on the 260 kilometres of Cape Town’s coastline managed by the City. This coast stretches from Silwerstroom on the West Coast to Kogel Bay on the eastern shores of False Bay.

St James tidal pool
St James tidal pool

The presentation was made by team members from the City’s Recreation and Parks department, which – among other things – is responsible for beaches, outdoor signage, ablutions, lifesaving, environmental education, and administration of Blue Flag status for the beaches and marinas that earn it. This department is also responsible for the tidal pools. (Incidentally the City’s assortment of safe seawater bathing facilities includes two of the largest tidal pools in the southern hemisphere, at Monwabisi and Strand.)

Until now, the City would use chlorine to clean the walls (top and sides) and steps in the tidal pools. The cleaning would be done after draining the pool completely. This year, a supply chain management issue meant that there was no cleaning of the tidal pools between July and November. During this time, regular swimmers (some of them members of the Sea-Change project) noticed that marine life flourished in the pools, and engaged with the City to try to find a way to keep the tidal pools safe but also to preserve the diversity of marine species that had been thriving in the pools during the cleaning hiatus. Safety, of course, is why they are cleaned: slippery, algae-covered steps are dangerous.

The tidal pool at Millers Point
The tidal pool at Millers Point

It was agreed that five of the pools – St James, Dalebrook, Wooley’s Pool, and the two pools at Kalk Bay station – would be subject to a trial of a new, environmentally friendly cleaning regimen. These pools are relatively close together in the north western corner of False Bay. The aim is still to ensure that the tops of the pool’s walls and steps are not slippery, and thus safe for bathers. But a second aim has been added by the City, which is to ensure the environmental integrity of the pools.

Under the new cleaning protocol, the following will be done:

  • the pools will be drained only when necessary, and only as far as is required to reach areas that are covered by water and in need of cleaning (for example, the steps at Dalebrook)
  • animals in harm’s way will be relocated
  • excess kelp and sea urchins will be removed from the pools
  • the tops of the walls and steps will be scraped to remove algae (the sides of the walls used to be scraped too, but this will no longer take place)
  • environmentally friendly chemicals will be used to remove the algal residue after scraping – no more chlorine and no more whitewashing!

All of the above means that the pools will be ready for use by the public immediately after cleaning, in contrast to the old protocol, which renders the pool unusable for a period after the cleaning crew has chlorined it.

I’ve asked the City for more information about the drainage procedure, and for more information about the earth-friendly chemicals that the cleaning contractor will use, but with no response so far. (If I get one I’ll obviously update this post.)

Buffels Bay tidal pool inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park
Buffels Bay tidal pool inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park

Many of the City of Cape Town’s tidal pools fall within the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, and it therefore makes perfect sense to aim to protect the animals living in them while maintaining public safety. Dr Maya Pfaff, another speaker at the information session, even suggested that some of the animals that may now thrive in the pools may actually help to keep the water clean. Mussels and feather duster worms filter the water and improve the clarity, algae take up nutrients, and limpets clean algae off the rocks.

Particularly over the festive season, the beaches and tidal pools around Cape Town are extremely busy. This is a wonderful opportunity for thousands of beach-goers to experience both safe swimming and a little bit more of what the ocean has to offer, instead of a sterile, salt-water pool devoid of healthy marine life. Bringing a snorkel and mask with you when next you go swimming will be well rewarded. To see some pictures of the amazing animals – from nudibranchs to a cuttlefish with eggs – in the St James tidal pool, check out Lisa’s instagram profile.

Do you swim regularly in any of the five pools in which the new cleaning regimen is being tested? What do you think about it? If you think that environmentally gentle cleaning of tidal pools is a good idea, what about letting the city know that you appreciate having tidal pools that are both safe and biodiverse. A short message on the City of Cape Town facebook page to say thank you and keep up the good work (and a request to extend it to the other tidal pools) is a good place to start!

You can read a news article about the new cleaning protocol here.

Bookshelf: Life’s a Beach

Life’s a Beach: Your Round-The-Coast Guide To South African Beaches – Ann Gadd

Compliments of the season. If you’re contemplating which beach to head to for tomorrow’s traditional Boxing Day beach outing, a venerable South African institution, I have just the book for you. The product of a mammoth investment of time (which couldn’t have been all bad) and distance travelled, Life’s a Beach is a handy guide to (possibly, probably, almost) every single beach along South Africa’s coastline.

Life's a Beach
Life’s a Beach

Each pair of facing pages covers a stretch of coast, and beaches are rated for surfing, alongside information about swimming, kiteboarding, wake boarding, kayaking and canoeing, diving, fishing and hiking. The scuba diving information for the sites around the Cape Peninsula, with which I am familiar, is reasonable, but of necessity very abbreviated owing to the book’s format and primary focus. It goes without saying that you should seek out some local knowledge before diving in an area you haven’t visited before.

Unique experiences and best kept secrets (no longer – haha!) are highlighted, as well as the presence of braai and picnic facilities. Tips on where to go for sundowners are also included. Child friendly activities are mentioned where applicable, too.

Access tips, as well as warnings about rips, pollution, sharks (thank you Shark Spotters!) and whether a beach has Blue Flag status round off the comprehensive information that is provided in a handily concise manner. This book will be extremely useful when you’re visiting an unfamiliar stretch of South Africa’s coastline, and particularly invaluable when it’s a little known and less popular beach.

Get a copy of the book here, or here if you’re outside South Africa.

And if you’re going to the beach in Cape Town tomorrow, make sure you’ve downloaded the free Shark Spotters smartphone app. Get it here for your iPhone, and here for Android.

Newsletter: 70,000 wheels

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Shore dives at Long Beach

The weekend looks quite rosy for change, and both Saturday and Sunday should be great. False Bay would be best on Saturday but on Sunday there are going to be approximately 70,000 wheels all trying to pass one another on the peninsula from really early until late afternoon. This is going to severely hamper diving opportunities around the peninsula, so you’re either going to have to get creative, or crack out the popcorn and a lawn chair and enjoy the Cycle Tour spectacle.

I am doing shore dives with students on Saturday, most likely at Long Beach. Let me know if you want to join us.

Clouds at Scarborough
Clouds at Scarborough

Be a good ocean citizen

The Department of Environmental Affairs has proposed 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa. It only takes an email to throw your support behind this excellent development. Read this for more information.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Say yes to 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa

Twenty two new marine protected areas have been proposed for South Africa. The benefits of MPAs are well known, so this is excellent news for the future of our marine environment. The public is invited to comment on the proposal, and as a responsible ocean loving individual, sending an email to comment would be one of the ways you can save the ocean. Read on to find out the details.

Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)
Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)

Included in the proposed new Marine Protected Areas are South Africa’s first offshore MPAs. The press release from the Department of Environmental Affairs states that:

Many of these new MPAs aim to protect offshore ecosystems and species, ranging from deep areas along the Namibian border to a more than tenfold expansion of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. They include charismatic features, such as, fossilised yellow wood forest at a depth of 120m off Port Nolloth, a deep cold-water coral reef standing 30m high off the seabed near Port Elizabeth and a world famous diving destination where seven shark species aggregate, at Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal. These MPAs also include undersea mountains, canyons, sandy plains, deep and shallow muds and diverse gravel habitats with unique fauna.

What good will these MPAs do? According to the press release:

The new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather. Offshore, these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security.

The new MPAs will increase the protected portion of South Africa’s territorial waters from less than 0.5%, to 5%. The government has undertaken to get this figure to 10% by 2019.

What does this mean for you?

Scuba diving

If you’re a scuba diver, you probably know that diving in a Marine Protected Area – particularly in a no-take zone – is an extra special experience because of the abundant fish and other marine life. The prospect of richer, more diverse dive sites to explore is an exciting one, but there are more benefits to this proposal than just enhanced eco-tourism opportunities.

Scuba diving businesses will have to acquire permits from the Department of Environmental Affairs (for about R500 per year) to operate in the Marine Protected Areas. (This has been in force for some time, and ethical dive operators in Cape Town who take clients diving in any of the existing MPAs should be in possession of a permit already.) There are also the permits issued to individual scuba divers (for about R100 per year, obtainable at the post office) to dive in an MPA – you will see this mentioned in Tony’s newsletter now and then, as a reminder.

Environmental protection

Some of the new MPAs are in offshore regions that would otherwise be at risk from destructive trawl fishing and other exploitative activities such as mineral, oil and gas extraction from the seabed.

Many of these MPAs will, like the Tsitsikamma MPA, serve as nurseries for fish stocks. Recreational and commercial fisheries will benefit from allowing the fish to spawn unmolested in protected areas along the coast. Holding ourselves back from fishing everywhere, at every opportunity, shows long-term thinking, and will have short-term benefits as well as for future generations.

Undesirable activities

Not all of the MPAs will be closed to fishing – those of you familiar with the network of protected areas around the Cape Peninsula will be familiar with this idea. For example, a number of pelagic game- and baitfish species may be caught within the Controlled Pelagic Zones of the Amathole, iSimangaliso, Protea and Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Areas. Commercial fishing permits may also be issued for use in the MPAs.

Existing discharges of effluent are permitted to continue – specifically into the Aliwal Shoal MPA.  This means that SAPPI may continue to pump wood-pulp effluent onto the dive sites there.

What to do?

If you would like to show your support for the proposal – and who doesn’t love a well-chosen MPA? – send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za. You have until 2 May 2016 to do so, and you can include any other relevant comments about the MPA proposal in your missive.

You can download the full document detailing the proposed new MPAs complete with maps, management regulations and co-ordinates (a 336 page pdf) here.

Tony and I are looking forward to passing over some of the new MPAs on the Agulhas Bank (maybe numbers 11 and 12 on the map above) next year – without getting wet. You can come too! (But you may have to impersonate a twitcher.)

Who to thank?

This project has been spearheaded by a team at SANBI (the South African National Biodiversity Institute) led by Dr Kerry Sink. Dr Sink has been awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation for 2016, and her fellowship work encompasses a range of projects aimed at strengthening and expanding South Africa’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a scientist and conservationist of Dr Sink’s calibre as a champion for MPAs in South Africa. So you can thank her!

Newsletter: Different strokes

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Launching at 9.00 am from Simon’s Town jetty

Saturday: 6.00 am double tank dives from Simon’s Town jetty

Dive conditions

Same again is not a phrase we can use for December this year. Last December was appalling by comparison and although we are only 10 days into the month, we have already done twice the number of dives we did in the whole of December last year.

Conditions this past weekend were great and they have been the same all week. The westerly wind today has made things even better and tomorrow and Saturday should be pretty good… In False Bay. The Atlantic looks a little dark and the water temperature is 16 degrees Celcius, which doesn’t herald good viz that side.

Leaving for dive two on Sunday
Leaving for dive two on Sunday

Dive plans

We are launching tomorrow and Saturday, but I think Sunday will be a little too windy for diving. The forecast is for it to blow hard from midday on Saturday, so we will launch for a double tanker at 6.00 am on Saturday from Simon’s Town jetty.

Freebies

Remember our free try dives in the pool until Christmas eve. We have had some bookings and the pool is warm! It’s a great opportunity to introduce your friends and family to scuba diving. Get in touch if you want to bring someone over – booking is essential.

Action required

Please have your MPA permits up to date – you can get one for R94.00 at the post office. Take along your ID document.

On the subject of Marine Protected Areas, please read this and send in your comments about the imminent opening of the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing. Allowing fishing in a marine protected area is a bit of a contradiction in terms, so I encourage you to read about the proposal and let your voice be heard on the subject.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Request for comment on the proposed opening of the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing

The South African ministry of the environment has proposed to open the country’s oldest Marine Protected Area, the Tsitsikamma marine reserve, to recreational angling by certain community members. The official press release by the Minister of the Environment can be found here.

Near the Storms River mouth in the Tsitsikamma MPA
Near the Storms River mouth in the Tsitsikamma MPA

A bit of background

There is wide acceptance in the scientific community that marine protected areas are a vital tool to arrest the damage caused to the world’s oceans by the over-exploitation of marine resources, which has been occurring for the last thousand years, with accelerating intensity in modern times. You can read about Colin Attwood’s assessment of South Africa’s MPAs, and about why MPAs work, here.

In the Marine and Coastal Component (pdf) of the 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment, Kerry Sink and co-authors found that 47% of South Africa’s marine habitats are threatened (about 30% by area), most of which are coastal environments. They also found that fishing has the greatest negative impact on marine biodiversity. Most of South Africa’s marine resources are over-exploited. The report states:

South Africa’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network plays a key role in protecting marine and coastal habitats and sustaining fisheries. Coastal protected areas can support rural livelihoods and local economic development through providing jobs and opportunities for ecotourism and conservation-related industries. Protected areas attract foreign and domestic tourists, provide ecosystem services, and safeguard the environment for future generations. Fully protected MPAs help sustain fisheries by protecting breeding resources and by seeding adjacent areas with eggs, larvae or young and adults.

The first of the priority actions recommended in the marine component of the National Biodiversity Assessment is to “expand and strengthen” the network of MPAs around our coast.

South Africa has a network of 23 Marine Protected Areas, covering just under 22% of our 3,113 kilometre coastline (you can find a list of them along with details of their size and other information on page 147 of the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: Marine & Coastal Component (pdf)). Less than half of the linear extent of coast covered by MPAs falls into no-take zones, where fishing is not allowed at all. The rest of the MPAs permit certain types of commercial and recreational fishing.

The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area

The Tsitsikamma MPA is South Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area, gazetted in 1964. It covers 264.4 square kilometres of Eastern Cape coastline (about 80 kilometres of coast, three nautical miles offshore), stretching from Nature’s Valley to the mouth of the Groot River. No fishing of any kind is currently permitted in the MPA. It is managed by SANParks, who acknowledge its importance in South Africa’s MPA network.

Map of the Tsitsikamma MPA, with proposed fishing areas
Map of the Tsitsikamma MPA, with proposed fishing areas

The Tsitsikamma MPA was not originally a no-take zone; since 1975 fishing in the MPA has been gradually reduced, and it was finally closed entirely to fishing in 2000 during a time of crisis with respect to South Africa’s plummeting fish stocks. It gets over 200,000 visitors per year, employs many people from local communities, and is responsible for significant tourism revenue both directly from the reserve, and from activities in the surrounding area. You can find more detail about this particular MPA on pages 34-40 of the WWF’s 2014 technical report on the State of Management of South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas (pdf).

Scuba diving in the reserve is not permitted except in designated areas close to the Storms River Mouth, with designated operators.

The proposal

Certain areas in the Tsitsikamma MPA are to be opened to recreational anglers who reside in the Tsitsikamma community, and are in posession of a South African ID document. The anglers cite “cultural, historical and subsistence reasons” for wanting to fish in the MPA, and have been campaigning to do so for years.

Definition of Tsitsikamma community
Definition of Tsitsikamma community

These anglers will be permitted to fish and gather bait (with a permit) during daylight hours, from the shore, for at most four days out of every calendar month, and are subject to reduced bag limits. Three per person per day for fish with a recreational limit of less than 10 may be caught. For fish with no recreational bag limit or a limit of more than 10 per day, only 10 may be caught per angler per day. No sharks and rays may be caught.

Things to think about

An attempt was made to open the Tsitsikamma MPA to recreational fishing in 2007. This met with vigorous opposition from the scientific community and environmentalists, and was vetoed by then-minister of the Environment, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. In a statement on the matter (well worth reading and possibly a good starting point when you are crafting a response to these proposals), van Schalkwyk said that

The reasons for originally closing the MPA in 2000 and the prevailing underlying circumstances have not changed. It is important to note that this decision will not have an impact on food security in the area as the issue dealt with is a matter of recreational fishing.

He also commented that

Opening this MPA to recreational fishing will set a dangerous precedent in a conservation area that is closed to all, for the benefit of all. Allowing a few people access for recreational purposes would negate the benefits that accrue to all South Africans. A decision to open this MPA would effectively have signalled a broader shift in policy on the part of government and the beginning of a new approach that is neither sustainable nor in line with our stated objectives.

He further acknowledged that it would be extremely difficult for effective monitoring and compliance measures to be enforced.

Another (unsuccessful) attempt to open the reserve to anglers was made in 2010.

If the MPA is now to be opened to fishing, the question that must be answered is what has changed since 2007? Are any of the reasons cited by van Schalkwyk for keeping the Tsitsikamma MPA closed, no longer valid?

Environmental and economic impact

WWF-funded report estimated in 2006 that the fish stocks built up in the Tsitsikamma MPA could be fished down in approximately 33 days (page 7). The benefit to opening the MPA would thus accrue very quickly to the local fishermen, after which the MPA would have fish stocks of similar quality and size to those outside the reserve and everyone would be worse off.

The largest fish, which spawn exponentially more (example – section 5.4) than their smaller counterparts, would be taken first. The MPA plays a vital role in re-seeding areas along its boundaries with new fish.

Enforcement

In the State of Management of South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas (pdf), Chadwick, Duncan and Tunley (2014) report that:

Enforcement continues to be a major challenge in most MPAs. The primary hindrances to enforcement activities include inadequate staffing, the lack of suitable regulations and poor morale. Morale would be boosted and enforcement efficiency improved if the judiciary became more aware of MPA issues and if all necessary enforcement actions were supported at the highest governmental levels without discrimination between law breakers. A lack of clear objectives for each MPA and a similar lack of understanding of the role and importance of MPAs at higher political levels poses a continual risk of existing MPAs being opened or de-proclaimed.

Can we expect SANParks to properly police the MPA when it is opened to fishing? What is the record of SANParks when it comes to policing of the other MPAs for which they are responsible? How, for example, will they determine whether an individual has already fished for his designated four days in the month? Will there be boots on the ground and boats in the water? There is already an illegal fishing problem in the reserve.

In announcing the proposal, Environment Minister Edna Molelwa states that “A detailed monitoring plan which includes fixed underwater cameras and process will be implemented. Furthermore SANParks has developed an operational plan which includes additional manpower for monitoring of access and regulations of permits.” (As an aside, do you think she’s talking about BRUVs?!)

Where is the funding for the “additional manpower” going to come from? If SANParks can whip it out of a hat at such short notice, why have they failed to provide proper support and enforcement to the other MPAs that they are responsible for?

Motives

Is the community goodwill that will be generated by opening the MPA to fishing sufficient that this proposal can be explained by the proximity of the 2016 elections? (I don’t know.)

If the proposed fishing is “subsistence” fishing as Minister Molelwa’s statement suggests, and stringent bag limits apply, is four days of fishing per month even a meaningful concession to subsistence fishermen?

Balancing human rights and conservation

For the other side of this debate, I ask you to consider how you would feel if you were accustomed to engaging in an enjoyable activity – one that perhaps even made you a bit of money now and then, and fed your family – close to home, but then were prevented from doing so. This is the experience of the angling community around the Tsitsikamma reserve, who were allowed to fish there until the closure of the MPA to fishing in 2000. Many, or even all, of the fishermen who have been campaigning to fish in the Tsitsikamma MPA are from groups of people who have historically had very limited access to South Africa’s resources, who lack the resources to travel long distances to other fishing spots.

Thursday’s post about balancing customary rights to fish with environmental imperatives is required reading for this section of the debate. What might a compromise look like, if you accept the view that the local fishermen have a case for being allowed to fish in the area?

Unfortunately you don’t get to be a thinking adult in South Africa without engaging with some hard questions with shameful historical origins. So get to it.

 How to submit your comments

Send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za, or use the postal address provided on page 4 of the relevant Government Gazette (pdf). Send your comments before 1 February 2016. Rationality and respect are never out of place when you’re trying to be heard.

You are welcome to copy and paste from this blog post when you put together your comments, although I haven’t made it as easy to do so as I did with the seal snorkeling issue because I don’t think it’s necessarily quite as clear cut. May I respectfully ask that if you talk to the press on the subject, or communicate about it in any public forum, that you use your own words.

Update (1 December 2015)

It appears that the fishermen are exerting pressure on SANParks to open fishing in the MPA by 15 December. Some sources (facebook) report that this is a done deal; other news sources (Times Live, The Herald) seem to indicate that this aspect is still under negotiation. The facebook report seems credible, particularly given the stroppy tone evinced in the comments by the original poster, when asked for more information.

In any case, giving in to pressure from the community would put the nail in the coffin of any theory other than expediency, ignoring scientific advice, and political pressure as a motive for the opening of the MPA.

Can someone explain to me (or the Environmental Affairs minister) how it is possible to both benefit society (by allowing fishing) AND to ensure the fish are protected for future generations (this would entail keeping the MPA closed)? Do fisheries scientists know that new knowledge has apparently revealed that allowing fishing protects fish? Has someone told them? This quote is from the Times Live article, emphasis mine:

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the move would benefit society and ensure such benefits were protected for future generations.

“The trade-offs between benefits and the protection of the resources that provide benefits are complex and subject to continuous change as human needs evolve and new knowledge accumulates,” she said.

“The government must be prepared to continuously reassess these trade-offs in consultation with its various partners.”

You know what to do. Send a jolly email: MPARegs@environment.gov.za. Send your comments before 1 February 2016. If you don’t send a formal response, but only bleat about it on facebook and other forums, you won’t be heard by the people making the decisions. Be a good citizen!

Balancing conservation imperatives and traditional fishing rights

How can we strike a balance between scientifically-driven conservation priorities and taking care of people, South Africans, many of whom have historically not been cared for at all?

Giant roman at Photographer's Reef
Giant roman at Photographer’s Reef

Loretta Feris, in a paper called A Customary Right to Fish When Fish Are Sparse: Managing Conflicting Claims between Customary Rights and Environmental Rights (pdf), grapples with the issue of “what happens when an indigenous community attempts to exercise its customary right to fish and the nearest access to marine resources is located in a marine protected area.” This issue is not peculiar to South Africa, but has arisen in many countries that were colonised.

South African legislation has not yet addressed the conflict between customary rights to marine resources by the communities who depend(ed) on them, and environmental law that designates certain areas as reserves and forbids fishing.

The South African Bill of Rights sets out the criteria for justifiable restrictions on the rights it enshrines. Feris writes,

In essence, it lays down a proportionality requirement, in terms of which it must be shown that the law in question (the Marine Living Resources Act) serves a constitutionally acceptable purpose and that there is sufficient proportionality between the infringement and the purpose that the law is designed to achieve.

In other words, if your rights are infringed by legislation, the purpose of that legislation must be consistent with the Constitution of South Africa, and the infringement of your rights must be proportional to the benefits accruing by having such a law on the books. According to Feris, the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act No. 57 of 2003 (pdf), which provides for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, places

a very clear constitutional duty on the government to ensure that natural resources such as marine resources are managed in a manner which acknowledges the economic interests in fisheries, but at the same time ensures that ecosystems and species are protected to ensure long-term viability.

Feris describes arguments for fisheries management approaches that make use of indigenous communities as custodians, assessors of the fishing stock, and managers and enforcers. The aim of such an approach would be to confer both a right (to harvest) and a duty (to protect) upon the local communities that have traditionally had access to a marine resource. Ensuring that employees at national parks and protected areas are drawn directly from the surrounding communities is one way to enact this type of philosophy.

Can I suggest Feris’s article as some Sunday afternoon reading? This is not a problem that is going to disappear in South Africa any time soon, and as a trying-to-be-compassionate human and conservation-minded ocean person it’s good to familiarise oneself with the grey areas that challenge one’s convictions.

Sustainable Seas Trust is endeavouring to strike the balance that Feris writes about in her article, and – should you be at a loss as to how to proceed – you could consider supporting them.

The current form of the KZN Sharks Board

This is the third post in a (long, sorry) series about the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board. You can read the first post – in which I explain why I’m interested in the Sharks Board and what we know about it – here, and the follow up, describing its history and formal establishment, here.

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Act (No. 5 of 2008) repealed previous legislation pertaining to the Sharks Board. Its aim:

To provide for the establishment of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board; to determine the objectives, powers, duties and functions of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board; to determine the manner in which the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board is to be managed, governed, staffed and financed; and to provide for matters incidental thereto.

The act applies to “the control of shark safety devices in the sea, sea shore and sea-bed of the Province.” It repeals the 1964 Natal Provincial Ordinance that established the Sharks Board and which I wrote about in the previous post in this series. It is broadly similar to the 1964 Provincial Ordinance in many respects, so I will primarily highlight the differences between the two pieces of legislation (as far as my amateur legal eagle brain can discern them). Want to read the entire 2008 act for yourself? Download it here.

Curious cowshark
Curious cowshark

Powers, duties and functions of the board (Section 5)

This section is divided into things the Board “must” do (5.1) and what it “may” do (5.2). In many respects, including the section number, it is very similar to the 1964 Provincial Ordinance.

Must

The primary difference between what the Board is mandated to do by the 2008 act, but not by the 1964 Provincial Ordinance, is to

(b) endeavour to introduce schemes [bather protection gear] that

  1. will reduce negative impact on all biodiversity; and
  2. will enhance the survival of caught sharks and other marine animals;

(c) undertake research in order to –

  1. consider and determine the feasibility of applying new or known methods of protection against shark attacks; and
  2. determine any environmental impact arising from the implementation of any schemes or any methods of protection against shark attacks

There is nothing in the 1964 Provincial Ordinance suggesting any concern for the environmental impact of the Sharks Board’s activities. In this respect, the 2008 act is an improvement and perhaps reflective of increased environmental awareness that, some have contended, can be traced back to the “save the whales” campaigns of the 1980s.

The Board is to consider research and recommendations related to bather protection, and to take “reasonable steps” to raise awareness among bathers of the methods used to protect them, and of safety precautions that the bathers must adhere to. The Board is to make itself available to municipalities which are obliged to perform functions in connection with the ocean and the shore, inland waters, and emergency and lifesaving services. The Board may also assist municipalities with scientific research and studies.

A very important part of the act, which again differs from the 1964 Provincial Ordinance, states that the Sharks Board must,

in exercising its powers and performing its duties in terms of this Act –

  1. promote biodiversity and ecological integrity by striving to avoid, mitigate and reduce any negative environmental impact;
  2. do anything in its power to promote the sustainability of marine life;
  3. endeavour to use all dead sharks and other marine animals caught by the schemes implemented in terms of this Act, for scientific research

The Board is to, “where possible, release all live marine animals, including sharks, caught or affected by” the gear, and to keep accurate records of these animals.

May

The Board may liaise with any relevant institution regarding environmental matters, tourism and economic development in KZN. The Board may consult with any organ of state, organisation, institution, body or committee about any matter related to bather protection.

There are sections permitting the Board to enter into agreements, purchase/lease/hire equipment and property, dispose of worn out or useless equipment (with certain caveats). The Board may also acquire and dispose of interests in companies, partnerships and the like, subject to MEC approval, as well as enter into joint ventures. It may also register patents and trademarks, and buy and sell these at will. This may be important in the future, if the Sharks Board develops a non-lethal (or less lethal) novel method of shark mitigation.

The Board is permitted to “raise funds by any lawful means” including via acceptance of donations, bequests and sponsorships. Funds may also be in the form of “revenue derived from tourism levies and the use of permits”, and similar sources. The Board is permitted to charge fees for provision of services, as well as for “entrance into an exhibition or display of shark control resources by the Board”. This it does do.

Powers of the Sharks Board (Section 6)

This section enables the Board to develop and maintain bather protection equipment “as it deems necessary and practicable” for the safety of bathers. As in the 1964 Provincial Ordinance, the Board is empowered to go over the head of a municipality with which it cannot reach an agreement regarding the nature of the equipment to be used, or the basis on which the municipality is to remunerate the Board.

Composition, Functioning and CEO of the Board (Sections 7-21)

These sections beef up the content of the 1964 Provincial Ordinance but don’t really contain anything particularly interesting. They describe the members of the board, and what qualifications and experience they must collectively embody (someone on the Board must know about marine conservation, someone must be from the tourism sector, someone from a conservation NGO, and so on). The frequency of meetings and procedures for the board’s functioning appear in these sections, too.

Funding of the Sharks Board and Financial Matters (Sections 22-25)

This section is interesting, particularly in light of the information in this link to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation website. Until at least 1999, and probably a few years after that, the Sharks Board was supplementing its funding through the sale of curios manufactured from shark products. I see this is as a classic example of moral hazard, although I may be stretching the definition a little! (The usual example given of a moral hazard would be if an insurance company let you take out fire insurance on your neighbour’s house. This might create an incentive, if you didn’t have strong moral fibre, for you to burn down his property and collect an insurance payout. Here, substitute “sell shark products” for “take out fire insurance”, and “catch more sharks” for “burn down his property” to see what position this places the Sharks Board in.)

According to the 2008 act, the Sharks Board obtains funding from the Provincial Legislature, donations, income (for example from tours of its facility and curio sales), interest on investments by the Board, and fees received for provision of shark control services. It is explicitly stated that souvenirs and curios sold by the Board may “not contain any dead sharks or other marine animals, or part thereof, caught by the schemes implemented in terms of this Act.”

This ensures that the Sharks Board is not given an incentive (see how I avoided using the word “incentivised”?) to catch and kill marine life and removes a potential conflict of interest, between preserving marine life and making money from selling dead marine life. That is why this proposal met with such an outcry.

Dissolving the Sharks Board

Sections 26-34 cover general provisions. Section 29 states that “the Board may only be dissolved in terms of an Act of the Provincial Legislature.” Section 35 repeals the Natal Sharks Board Ordinance (No. 10 of 1964). Section 36 provides continuity between the Board established under that Ordinance, and by this Act. Section 37 states the short name of this act, which is the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Act, 2008.

In conclusion

Thank you for following along with this exercise in understanding the Sharks Board, its structure, and its obligations. One of the most important things that I have learned from diving (ahem) into the legislation and annual reports of the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board is that it is a legally constituted body, and for its function to change appreciably, or for it to cease operation (which would probably compromise bather safety in KwaZulu Natal), it would have to be legally dissolved. This fact should inform the approach that we take as concerned ocean people when it comes to directing energy towards protests, engagement with interested and affected parties, and other actions to reduce the shark fishing activity that the Sharks Board currently engages in.

My own half-formed view is that it may be productive to try to find ways to support the Sharks Board in its efforts to develop non-lethal shark repellents. An example of how you could be helpful in this regard would be writing to the City of Cape Town and DAFF in support of using Fish Hoek beach as the location for any future trials of the Sharks Board’s electrical shark repellent cable. Fish Hoek beach is far sharkier than Glencairn, and would provide conclusive results regarding the effectiveness of the cable far quicker than Glencairn has (the Glencairn test was largely inconclusive because no white sharks came by). It was excluded as a trial location because DAFF was concerned that the catches of the beach seine (trek) fishermen who operate in the area would be affected by the cable.

Another idea for how you can make a difference would be to engage directly, in a mature manner, with municipalities along the KZN coast to encourage them to reduce their dependence on Sharks Board gear. An example of such an engagement by Sharklife, which was reasoned, practical, data-driven and ultimately a success (and for which many will claim credit) can be found here. These things take time, effort and persistence, and results are incremental rather than spectacularly immediate.

If you have any other ideas as to how a citizen activist – thinking like David Helvarg – could have an impact here, I’d love to hear them.

(A different question, which each person must answer for themselves, is whether this is the area in which one can have the most impact, as a local activist – is it the best use of your energy and ability to make a difference for the ocean? You should read Saved By the Sea, or at least look up the Blue Frontier Campaign, which is explained a bit better on its wikipedia page than on its website, if this seems like a stupid thing to ask.)

Newsletter: Friday diving

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Launching at 8.30 and 11.30 am from False Bay Yacht Club

We are back from an exploration trip to De Hoop. We took in Infanta, Arniston and Struisbaai as well as Cape Agulhas. Our aim was to gather info for future dive trips up the coast and we checked out the launch sites, accommodation, eating spots and so on. We went armed with a chart of the wrecks and reefs and chatted to some of the locals who use the areas daily. It was a fantastic trip and one of the highlights was filming the giant short tailed stingrays that are resident in the harbour at Struisbaai. We’ll share that video on Youtube in a day or two, and some photos on our facebook page. Instagram already has some highlights from the trip

Filming rays at Struisbaai harbour
Filming rays at Struisbaai harbour

Dive conditions

The weekend weather does not look all that rosy so we will launch tomorrow at 8.30 and 11.30. Saturday looks really messy and Sunday looks a little wet. We will launch on Sunday if the weather tones down from the current forecast. Either way, let me know if you’d like to be notified of possible Sunday dives, or if you’d like to be on the boat tomorrow.

Just a reminder to make sure your permit to dive in a Marine Protected Area is up to date. Also, if you book a dive please let me know in good time if you can’t take the spot on the boat so that I can give it to someone else.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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