Thursday, October 25, 2007

Suspension of Wild Abalone Commercial Fishing

Go to Documents contents   Suspension of Wild Abalone Commercial Fishing

25 October 2007

Media Statement

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

THURSDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2007: "Yesterday's tough decision by Cabinet to support the suspension of wild abalone (also known as perlemoen) 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."  These were the words of Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism, welcoming the Cabinet decision in this regard.

"To suspend fishing in any fishery is a very difficult decision to take as we are aware that such a decision will have an impact on the livelihoods of many people and families in the industry.  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.  The main causes of the decline in abalone stocks are poaching and the migration of West Coast Rock Lobster into the abalone areas.  Rock Lobsters consume Sea Urchins that 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.

For the past few years the recommendation from our departments managers and researchers has been that the fishery is in crisis and that closure could not be avoided. We are now at the point where the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) reached a record low of 125t for the 2006/7 season. The only responsible option left to me as Minister, is to take the unfortunate decision to suspend fishing in the abalone fishery in terms of Section 16 of the Marine Living Resources Act," the Minister said.

In the early years, catches of abalone were unregulated and landings escalated to a high of nearly 3000 tons in 1965, before declining rapidly to a point in 1970, when the first commercial quotas within a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) were introduced.  The stabilising effect of a TAC managed fishery was apparent, with catches remaining relatively constant at 600t - 700t per year between 1970 and 1995.

Over the past 10 years, due to declining resources, the TAC has had to be reduced annually from 615t in 1995 to a record low of 125t for the 2006/7 season. In 2004, when determining the total global TAC for abalone, the Minister said "I also want, however, today 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." In determining the TAC for the previous season the Minister furthermore announced the reduction of the TAC to zero in 3 of the 7 zones.

The Minister added that it is also important to reflect that worldwide, abalone fisheries have either closed or are threatened by commercial extinction, for example the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The North American fisheries have now been closed for more that ten years. It has been suggested that such fisheries are slow to recover because closure was delayed.

"There are currently 302 rights holders (262 individual divers and 40 legal entities in the form of close corporations) operating in the sector with about 800 jobs, including the individual divers. These are the people and families this decision will impact on the most. We have therefore consulted with the Department of Labour and jointly developed a Social Plan to mitigate impacts of suspending Wild Abalone Commercial Fishing. This plan includes our departments commitment to developing a sustainable aquaculture industry and the issuing of additional permits for whale watching and shark cage diving," the Minister concluded.

To ensure that the suspension of harvesting is observed, monitoring and control on the part of the Department will be up scaled. Abalone population dynamics will also be monitored through regular research surveys.

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