26 October 2007
South Africa has indefinitely suspended abalone fishing in its waters, effective from February 2008, as marine authorities take drastic measures to protect the rapidly depleting shellfish species from commercial extinction.
Illegal fishing and increased inward migration of a lobster species that destroy abalone habitat are being blamed for a decline in the shellfish’s numbers.
Addressing the media following a Cabinet meeting this week, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said politicians had also approved a social plan to provide alternative employment opportunities for legal fishers of the shellfish, commonly known in South Africa as perlemoen.
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism states that there are currently 302 rights holders – 262 individual divers and 40 close corporations – operating in the sector, accounting for about 800 jobs.
“Some of the measures incorporated in the social plan will include the development of a sustainable aqua-culture industry and issuing of additional permits for whale watching and shark-cage diving,” he said.
Maseko conceded that it was not an easy decision to indefinitely suspend fishing of the species, but that the government had the responsibility to “strike a good balance” between the needs of coastal communities and the species becoming extinct.
“Wednesday’s tough decision by Cabinet to support the suspension of wild abalone commercial fishing will ensure the survival of the species and will also ensure that our children and the generations that follow will know what perlemoen is,” Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said, welcoming the decision.
“We are unfortunately at a point where the commercial harvesting of wild abalone can no longer be justified because the stock has declined to such an extent that the resource is threatened with commercial extinction.”
One reason for the decline is the migration of West Coast Rock Lobster into abalone areas. The Rock Lobsters consume the sea urchins, which provide shelter to juvenile abalone.
“This in turn subjects the juvenile abalone to increased mortality. Studies further show that unless decisive and immediate action is taken, the resource will collapse completely with little prospect of recovery,” he said.
A main cause for the decline, however, has been rampant poaching over the years, as the shellfish is highly coveted and fetches high prices especially in the Far East, and had to be dealt with.
“I want to give notice that if there is not a drastic decline in poaching I will have to apply my mind at the start of the next season as to whether it is perhaps time to consider a complete ban on all perlemoen harvesting for a period of ten years to allow the resource to recover,” Van Schalkwyk warned.