This longlining vessel has been seen regularly by residents along the Gouritzmond coastline. Photo: Supplied
MOSSEL BAY NEWS - Local conservationists last week again raised their concerns about demersal shark longlining along the coast, this time in the area between Gouritzmond and Mossel Bay.
In July 2015, the Mossel Bay Advertiser reported on a Port Elizabeth-registered vessel with a permit for demersal longline fishing (Mutilated whale shark washed up, 10 July 2015).
According to concerned residents in the area, the vessel was spotted off Vleesbaai, Fransmanshoek and Cape Vacca, and was often spotted closer than the allowed distance to the shoreline.
Earlier this year, businessman and guesthouse owner in Gouritzmond Tommy Joubert, spotted a longlining fishing vessel close to shore. Following the regular return of the vessel to the same area, Joubert alerted a fishing charter operator in Gouritzmond, Org Nieuwoudt, and requested him to investigate.
“I took my boat, visited the vessel and requested to meet the skipper. He was very co-operative and told me that he had a permit specifically for shark longlining. My concern was for the bycatch, which often includes line fish species, listed as vulnerable by SASSI (the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative).” Nieuwoudt was particularly concerned about species such as poenskop, red steenbras, dusky kob, red stumpnose and yellow-bellied rock cod.
According to Nieuwoudt, members of the commercial fishing community in Stilbaai share his concern since irresponsible longlining has a notable economic impact on their current operations, which is why he took the matter up with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).
Nieuwoudt supplied the Advertiser with email correspondence with DAFF regarding the specific vessel, the Suriam PEA 457 L, including its permit conditions.
Herein, it is clearly stated that only soupfin, smooth-hound sharks, spiny dogfish, St Joseph sharks, the Carcharhinus genus (excluding bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, tresher sharks, oceanic white-tip and sevengill sharks) as well as rays and skates can be targeted.
No sharks of the genus Poroderma or Haploblepharus or any oceanic sharks are permitted to be caught or used as bait. Other protected species such as ragged-tooth sharks, great white sharks and sawfish are also off limits.
Upon Nieuwoudt's insistence, DAFF deployed compliance officers to check on the Suriam as it discharged its catch in Port Elizabeth on 14 April.
According to the feedback received from DAFF, no linefish species were found on board. Two hammerhead sharks were declared and confiscated due to the prohibition in terms of the permit conditions.
Enquiries made to the skipper on whether black musselcracker (poenskop) was incidentally caught, revealed that this species previously landed up among the by-catch. It was already dead when it was winched onto the deck and the crew consumed it on the vessel.
Paragraph 5.8 of the permit conditions state that “dead, prohibited specimens and excess by-catch must be retained whole and declared to the Fishery Control Officer, where the catch will be landed at least 24 hours prior to landing of the catch. Dead specimen and excess by-catch must be handed over to the Fishery Control Officer who will dispose of this fish in the prescribed manner”.
Concerns about by-catch
Paragraph 5.2 under the section on Non-Commercial Species and By-catches states that “turtles, seabird and linefish by-catch may be a problem but the extent of this problem and the solutions thereof can only be determined through an observer programme. Hence, a dedicated observer programme is essential for Demersal Shark Longline fishing”.
In light of this particular section, local conservationists are particularly concerned as there are no scientific data regarding the environmental impact of demersal shark longlining on rocky bottom shores, which describes the waters at Gouritzmond, according to Nieuwoudt.
Also that so far, there has been no observer program organised to supplement the lack of knowledge about the potential impact .
Correspondence between Nieuwoudt and DAFF indicates a willingness from the department to work towards a solution, which will be discussed at the department’s upcoming Scientific Working Group. However, it is stated that at present, permit conditions cannot be changed without justification.
The department is also entitled to place observers on fishing vessels, but only if trained and registered with a recognised observer supply company of which several are currently listed.
Sign the petition
An online petition was created last week by Esther Jacobs Overbeeke, founder of the Keep Fin Alive organisation, requesting a discussion among DAFF, researchers, industry and the local public. The petition is supported also by Dr Enrico Gennari, Director of Oceans Research.
"We believe that ensuring the ecological sustainability of the natural resources means also the long-term viability of the fishing industry. The lack of an observer program and the need for it is the primary way, in my opinion, to ensure the sustainability of the industry and will also assist. DAFF."
According to Vernon Gibbs-Hall, Environmental Specialist Biodiversity and Coastal Management for the Eden District Municipality, the municipality has a shared mandate 12 nautical miles out to sea. "What happens in that space has a plethora of legislation associated with it.
All the Acts, specifically the Marine Living Resources and Coastal Management Act as well as the Estuary Protocol overlap government and parastatal obligations, roles and responsibilities. To this end, under the Co-Operative Governance Framework, we are obliged to collaborate closely with each other."
The petition, within a day of its existence, was signed by more than 1 000 people.
According to Beverley Boer, director: public affairs, marketing and tourism for the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR), the issue of demersal shark longlining were raised at the organisation’s recent annual general meeting on 10 May.
According to Boer, all the members present supported a petition for an inclusive public participation process where members of the organisation have the opportunity to gain insight and provide input.
Chris Chameleon recently also pledged his support for the Keep Fin Alive campaign, run by the conser- vation-conscious Esther Jacobs Overbeeke, who last week started an online petition regarding demer- sal shark longlining.
ARTICLE: CORNELLE CARSTENS, MOSSEL BAY ADVERTISER JOURNALIST
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