Take it slow along Boyes Drive in the Southern Peninsula and there’s an impressive view of False Bay. After taking in the panorama, head towards Fish Hoek and at the end of Boyes Drive you’ll find Kalk Bay Harbour, a working wharf where you can buy fish fresh off the boat.
At the harbour the well-heeled can sup on sumptuous seafood platters in an upstairs restaurant with an unfettered view of the sea. Downstairs, closer to the docks, there’s a takeaway that offers a delicious fish-and-chips served in paper for under R50.
If you are one of the upper classes, enjoy the ‘kreef’ while you can. Both East Coast and West Coast Rock Lobster are on the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s (SASSI) ‘orange’ list, which means that this species is being overfished, and depleted.
More bad news comes in the form of recent research that reveals how the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is failing to adequately police its commons – the stock of marine life in our oceans.
Aksel Sundström, a PhD candidate in Political Science from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, recently interviewed some 40 government inspectors and other key agents who manage security along the Cape coast. Sundström reports that he was surprised how openly officials talked about corruption. His research shows that local marine fish stocks are overexploited, but points out that government’s ability to control overfishing is seriously compromised.
“When I interviewed inspectors they are surprisingly open about this. They tell me that they get a box of fish or just some money from fishermen in exchange for being allowed to break the rules that apply to protected areas or catches,” Sundström says in his research paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Global Environmental Change.
In the research an inspector who asked to remain anonymous says: “A Chinese captain that was arrested last week called someone who arrived to the harbour with a wad of money. It is quite common … Imagine these boats, how much money they carry. And we earn so little … We can make resources of half a million rand disappear from the books. So the temptation is always there.”
“Inspectors in this sector clearly become part of the problem,” says Sundström, adding: “Some act as informants and tip poachers [off] in advance during joint police operations. And some inspectors are themselves engaged in illegal fishing.” Sundström describes how, when he was doing his interviews in 2014, a police officer from Simon’s Town was arrested because his freezer was filled with illegal marine resources to the value of US$100,000 or R1,2 million.
“One should remember that many of these inspectors face violent repercussions from poachers if they do not allow them to break rules. So increasing their security may in fact decrease bribe taking. Many inspectors want to act honest but face pressure to be a part of corrupt affairs,” Sundström says.
More bad news comes by way of the SA National Biodiversity Institute which surveys the health of marine protected areas. The institute indicates that 47% of this country’s marine and coastal habitat is threatened, which means they can’t adequately contribute to assure healthy fish stocks. Then there’s the report from the World Wildlife Fund [WWF] that 70% of SA’s commercial fish species is considered collapsed. Nearshore fisheries are worst affected.
The market won’t do much about these problems either because it is not geared to adequately police sustainability of stocks. WWF surveyed fish outlets, and of those interviewed, 57% stated that they weren’t familiar with the laws that govern seafood trade, while 46% had never been inspected for compliance.
Couple this with government’s gross mismanagement of fisheries as evident by the ongoing fisheries debacle: tender conundrums, inability to appoint or retain skilled staff, cadre deployment and problems with fisheries research vessels, and what have you got? A massive problem with fishing stocks and increased risk to the fishing industry in the long-term, as well as issues for food security.
One fisheries expert I spoke to told me that sophisticated foreign fishing vessels frequently enter local waters to trawl and do damage the sea bed, but depart way before anyone’s cottoned on to the fact they’ve been and gone. This expert reckons South Africa is losing trillions to illegal fishing annually.
What does this mean? If you’re looking to get into a new business sector, investing in aquaculture wouldn’t be an altogether bad idea — if you know what you’re doing. If you have the right connections in government you might be able to avail yourself of some of the billions that government is pumping into aquaculture.
If you’re heavily invested in companies that generate most of their revenues from fisheries, like Oceana, you’ll want to keep a close eye on these investments and their management of risk, given their future fortunes are hinged on how well government is able to manage its marine resources. Overfishing and illegal fishing hurts South Africa’s legitimate fishing industries, which includes large companies like Oceana and SeaHarvest [Brimstone investments], as well as empowerment companies like Sekunjalo with marine interests, and food companies like AVI which have well established fish brands like I&J.
Fisheries is a relatively small contributor to our economy, and constitutes some 0,3 % of SA’s Gross Domestic Product, but provides employment to some 26,500 people, and is critical to domestic food safety because locals across all demographics rely on fish as a protein source. WWF says 312,753,261kg of seafood was consumed locally in 2010, of which more than 50% was imported.
Unregulated, unreported and illegal trade in fisheries hurts export businesses as well. WWF indicates that SA exported US$75,547,408 worth of fish and fishery products in 2009.
The top commercial species consumed are prawns, sole, kingklip and calamari. Interestingly WWF says our local catches are exported because they get “premium pricing” in offshore markets. If you’re noshing a seafood platter at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, it is more than likely that your prawns are from India, Mozambique or Thailand.
Then there’s the matter of what the collapse and depletion of fishery sectors is doing to coastal economies, and how it is affecting communities who rely on small scale and artisanal fishing for survival.
The collapse of South Africa’s fisheries means a lot more than whether or not you’ll be able to get rock lobster next time you go eat at Kalk Bay Harbour. It will affect restaurants, the tourism trade and will really mess up that view of False Bay from the top of Boyes Drive. An apocalyptic future vision of oceans without fish will realise an extreme overpopulation of jellyfish.
If we don’t all want to be chowing down on jellyfish burgers later in our lives, perhaps we should do something about how our marine resources are being governed now.