MOSSEL BAY NEWS - Hundreds of spotted grunter fish were illegally caught by hand on Sunday, 19 January, hours after the mouth of the Little Brak River was mechanically opened by the Mossel Bay Municipality as a precautionary measure, to prevent houses next to the riverbank from flooding.
The decision to open the mouth was made after heavy rainfall caused the water level to rise to such an extent that it could have caused flooding. But, an emergency measure to prevent Powertown and Riverside from flooding, escalated into a near ecological disaster, when people flocked to the shallows at the start of the river mouth, scooping a large number of grunters out of the water by hand.
On a cellphone video a resident took at the estuary, a crowd of people chase large grunters to the shallows, scooping them up by hand and with nets and even using surfboards to corner them.
People are running around and walking away with buckets and their arms full of grunters on the video.
The grunter is listed as a no-sale species in South Africa. The incident caused an outcry on social media. On the video it can also clearly be seen that the culprits were people from all walks of live, with some carrying buckets containing more than 20 large grunters to their vehicles.
"Not just hungry, poor people getting something to eat, rather greedy people abusing our ecosystem," was one of the many comments on social media. Some social media users expressed their concern while others said they would also have made use of the opportunity to get fresh fish for free.
This was the first time in 25 years that the Little Brak River mouth was closed due to years of drought. Usually the mouth is open and fish use the mouth as a highway to get to sea.
Chair of the Midbrak Conservancy as well as the Little Brak River Forum, Robin Fick, says he received complaints on Sunday in the late afternoon about people catching the fish by hand at the river mouth.
"We got hold of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) but they first had to get permission from Port Elizabeth to come out. We met their staff at the estuary at about 19:00 on Sunday and when the people saw us they scattered. However, the damage had already been done for about four hours."
Fick says he also heard that people would string a gill net over the area later that night but could not confirm this.
They once again received complaints on Monday morning and again phoned DAFF.
"We received many photos of a lot of grunter being taken out." He says grunters take three years to mature before they start spawning.
"They spawn at sea and the small ones come back into the estuary as it provides them protection. Our problem is that mature grunter were caught in large numbers, grunter that were supposed to go out to sea to spawn."
Fick says he doesn't have a figure of how many fish were caught but suspects that it might take up to three years for the ecological system to get its balance back.
You can clearly hear on the video how someone remarks about the 'hundreds' of fish swimming out.
Apart from that, Fick says fishermen will also start to avoid the Little Brak River which is known as a popular fishing attraction if there are less fish to catch. "Word will spread fast and if there are few fish in the river, Little Brak will lose that tourist attraction."
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