Angry fishermen whose livelihoods depend on good catches say authorities are not doing enough to safeguard fish stocks from deep water fishing fleets accused of plundering our waters.
The accusation comes as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries investigates a fleet of nine Chinese fishing vessels intercepted within our economic exclusion zone just over a week ago. One of the vessels has been impounded in Cape Town, and the department has put out an alert to neighbouring countries to keep an eye on the suspicious ships.
On Saturday the department confirmed it was in discussions with the Chinese embassy and the fishing firm, through the Department of International Relations. Fisheries spokeswoman, Bomikazi Molapo said its monitoring systems showed the vessels had since left our waters.
And in an effort to close loop-holes that have allowed fish stocks to be exhausted along virtually all coastal countries, the AU is proposing drastic measures, including making inter-country fishing agreements transparent.
A source close to the AU probe said coastal countries on the continent would be able to push their GDP up by more than one percent if measures were put in place to deal with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Earlier reports by the AU suggest that piracy off the Somali coast was set off by the destruction of that country’s fishing industry through rampant illegal and unregulated fishing by foreign fleets, which turned placid fishermen into modern-day pirates.
China’s highly subsidised deep water fleet has fallen foul of our country’s fishing regulations in recent years by fishing without authorisation, and ignoring calls for on-board inspections, and the latest incident has left local fishing communities fuming.
They’re also concerned that the KZN coast will be more vulnerable to foreign fleets when Ezemvelo’s contract with Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to monitor our waters comes to an end in two months, and the task returns to the department.
The South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association’ Johann Augustyn said:
“This will create problems because the department does not have the resources and is experiencing major financial constrictions, so it would have been better if Ezemvelo continued Malapo said: “(The fisheries department) will manage KZN after the expiry of the contract.
“We want to allay the fears of everyone concerned by assuring them that (the fisheries department) will ensure that KZN is policed”.
Facebook posts just over a week ago raised the alarm after an armchair crusader, Mark Hicks of Pietermaritzburg, used a simple app to catch the fleet switching off their satellite tracking devices as they headed down the Eastern Cape coast where sardine stocks are amassing for their annual migration.
He posted screen shots showing how some of the boats had vanished for six hours.
Last Sunday, Nick Biggs posted on Facebook: “This trawler just went straight into the Kei Mouth marine protected area today presumably” towing a net.
“I could clearly see the line behind the vessel. We were fishing at Chintsa Bay and could not believe the audacity of these people to not only rape our coastline but to rape the marine protected areas as well.”
Augustyn cautioned against assuming guilt on the part of the fleet, saying they may have scattered simply to avoid being held up in port with red tape, had they complied with department orders to put in to port.
But not everyone agrees.
Community activist and spokesman for the KZN Fisherfolk Association, Desmond D’Sa believes “the wool has been pulled over the eyes of the public”.
“I believe government knew about this long ago and turned a blind eye to the Chinese raping our oceans.
“How else do you explain government pulling the plug on Ezemvelo in terms of their powers of jurisdiction over our seas?” D’Sa argued.
He also blamed the Chinese fishing vessels making illegal incursions into SA waters for the almost non-existent sardine phenomenon, which usually manifested along the KZN coastline.
“I don’t think we would see sardines landing on our shores as they did previously, the Chinese are intercepting them,” he said, adding that sardine fever boosted tourism and put food on the table.
He questioned why our navy was not more proactive in protecting our waters with all the sophisticated and expensive resources at its disposal.
“If our navy is not able to defend our oceans from fishing boats, what would happen if we were attacked?” D’Sa asked.
He said it was ironic that while local fishermen had to comply with stringent regulations, foreign fleets simply helped themselves unchecked.
“The fishermen, who usually struggle to eke out a living, are forced to pay as much as R700 for their permits. This is yet another example of the elite benefiting from the Chinese vessels taking our fish, yet the small man must pay the price.”
A Durban environmental lawyer, Tashya Giyapersad said there were no grey areas when it came to SA waters and the laws that governed them, therefore, it was unthinkable how Chinese fishing vessels were allowed to make rich pickings from our oceans with little or no censure.
“The Chinese fishing in our oceans flies in the face of domestic laws pertaining to international vessels entering national waters,” she said.