South Africa’s linefish stocks show recovery

5 December 2013

South Africa’s linefish stocks are beginning to recover, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature SA (WWF-SA) says.

“The initial signs of recovery in some of South Africa’s key linefish stocks indicate that we are on the right track,” John Duncan, the senior manager of WWF-SA’s marine programme, said in a statement on Monday.

A number of “difficult and unpopular decisions” – including cutting permits for linefish by 70% and banning driving on beaches – may have helped the recovery, a report on the latest linefish research by the WWF shows.

The country’s line-fishery sector was declared to be in a state of emergency in 2000 after the collapse of many commercially important linefish stocks, such as kob, geelbek and red roman, had been depleted to less than 10% of their pristine levels, the WWF-SA says.

It was then that marine and coastal management, which is now part of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, put in place the measures that are now paying off.

The 2003 beach driving ban, for example, has enabled some surf-zone fish populations to recover as they are outside the range of walking anglers.

Food security

The research also shows that marine protected areas (MPAs), such as the Pondoland MPA in the Eastern Cape, appear to be providing “sufficient protection to allow stock rebuilding for species with small home ranges, such as the scotsman and yellowbelly rock cod”.

Duncan says that these “initial signs of recovery are positive not just for our marine ecosystems but also for the many fishers whose livelihoods are directly dependent on these stocks”.

The short-term needs of fishers need to be balanced against the long-term benefits of healthy ecosystems, says Duncan. “Managing for healthy marine ecosystems should be non-negotiable as they ultimately provide the basis upon which coastal livelihoods and food security are built.”

“What the science is telling us is that we now understand the biology of these species well enough to manage them sustainably,” says Colin Attwood, from the University of Cape Town’s marine research institute. “We are not out of the woods yet. Not all stocks are showing signs of recovery and those that are, are still nowhere near their optimal exploitation levels. But we are on the right track.”

WWF-SA and SAinfo reporter