Oceans Day puts the focus on South Africa’s fish stocks

9 June 2015

The oceans around South Africa have the potential to unlock economic development opportunities in the country, according to Deputy Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Thomson.

“We thus need to develop a proactive approach to understand our oceans’ capacity and role to ensure socio-economic emancipation while protecting this vast and fragile environment,” she said yesterday at celebrations of World Oceans Day in Port Elizabeth.

World Oceans Day is an annual event on 8 June, recognised by the United Nations and run by its Environment Programme (UNEP). It was declared to remind people of the major role the oceans play, as well as to educate people of the impact humans have on the oceans. “They are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe,” says the UN.

Thomson said the use of various marine resources in South Africa had increased, but the Department of Environmental Affairs would continue efforts to protect and maintain the country’s marine biodiversity. “We aspire to create partnerships while strengthening existing ones to develop means and ways to share the wealth of the ocean for the benefit of all South Africans.”

Sassi Stories

To mark the day, as well as World Environment Day on 5 June, WWF South Africa’s Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi) is running its #SASSIStories campaign. It is about telling the inspiring stories of fishers, retailers, chefs, and ordinary people who are driving positive change in the seafood sector.

WWF-Sassi points out that the oceans are the cornerstone of life on Earth. They cover more than two thirds of the planet’s surface, produce 70% of its oxygen and are responsible for driving weather systems.

“Oceans are also a critical source of food, culture and history. Every year they feed over a billion people and almost 1 in 10 people around the world rely on fishing and fishing-related activities for their livelihoods. Yet both locally and globally we are not doing enough to look after this incredibly value asset,” the organisation says.

Humanity’s impact can be seen in reports of climate change, overfishing and the increasing user conflicts.

It was an issue Thomson also raised. “Aspects of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, unsustainable coastal area development and unwanted impacts from resource extraction need to be addressed for human well-being, environmental prosperity and integrity,” she said.

Blue economy

World Oceans Day this year is celebrated under the UNEP’s theme “Healthy oceans, healthy planet”. The department expanded this to “Healthy oceans, healthy planet: enabling sustainable ocean economy development”, to highlight the government’s commitment to sustainable ocean economy through Operation Phakisa.

Operation Phakisa promotes economic growth and job creation in line with the goals outlined in the National Development Plan. Its oceans economy laboratory is estimated to have the potential to contribute up to R177-billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product and create just over one million jobs by 2033.

The oceans economy lab has four priority areas: marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture, and marine protection services and ocean governance. –

Senzeni Zokwana, the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said almost all humans on Earth depend on the seas’ natural resources. “The sustainable use and management of the oceans, even its resources, is critical to us today and for future generations.”

Overfishing

The question, he said, was how to forge an economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible vision for the use of the oceans’ natural resources without compromising future generations.

“Fish supply the greatest percentage of the world’s protein consumed by humans, making the oceans critical to food security. [but] According to the [Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN], most of the world’s major fisheries are being fished at levels above their maximum sustainable level with a number of fish stocks completely depleted.”

In addition in South Africa, many coastal communities had been marginalised for many years and denied access to fish resources, which resulted in compromised fishing livelihoods and economic viabilities.

Its Small-scale Fisheries Policy sought to redress this and ensure equitable sharing of the oceans’ resources.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face in South Africa today is striking a balance between meeting the food security needs of our people while at same time ensuring that the resources they depend on are managed sustainably,” Zokwana said.

“We also have to increase our efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing which are serious crimes because they also cause a huge threat to the collapse of our resources.”

SAinfo reporter