SOUTH CAPE NEWS - Interference with and the vandalising of legal fishing gear off the Mossel Bay and surrounding coast by members of the public can create serious marine life entrapment.
According to Gavin Shrosbree, a permit holder for catching octopus, they have experienced increased vandalism to their gear over the past few weeks and this can be life-threatening to especially the whales that breed off the Garden Route coast.
"Investigations are currently underway to identify those responsible for damaging the fishing equipment, with both boat-based recreational and commercial fishermen being investigated. Legal charges will be brought against them with jail terms a possibility," says Shrosbree.
The investigation includes the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff) who oversees all fishing in South Africa. "Daff and the octopus rights holders will be applying the full might of the law in this regard and will not stop until these perpetrators are apprehended."
The sector being targeted by the vandals is the Exploratory Octopus Fishery, through which Daff has been attempting, along with permit holders, to establish a sustainable and long-term octopus vulgaris fishery, for over 20 years.
"It is known that the South African fishing industry is in dire straits and in urgent need of alternative, sustainable commercial fisheries in order to save the livelihoods of coastal fishing communities, create new jobs, alleviate fishing pressure from over fished stocks, and open up foreign export investment opportunities for the country. Daff and the present permit holders have invested many years and millions of rands into this project, in order to get the permit conditions and science correct," says Shrosbree.
"The octopus fishing gear is specifically designed to limit interactions with whales and other marine life. Calling on global best practice, it is internationally recognised through the appropriate monitoring organisations," says Shrosbree.
Furthermore, several octopus fishermen have been the first fishermen in South African history to voluntarily undergo the whale detanglements course in order to assist all entanglement incidents, where possible.
"The present vandalism of the octopus fishing gear - by cutting it loose - negates all these initiatives to minimise the impact on marine life. This in itself is not only highly illegal, but also the most dangerous threat posed to whales as they get entangled in the ropes and equipment that drift free rather than being confined to a specific area that is regularly checked. It also impacts on the ability of the fishermen to earn an honest living due to the lost equipment, which already amounts to a few hundred thousand rands.
"Many years of research, expense and hundreds of permanent job creation opportunities are at stake in the industry."
Anybody who has any information relating to equipment being vandalised are asked to report it to Sanjay from Daff on 012 40 23911, or Daryl on 082 658 0037. There is a R5 000 reward for any information leading to a successful case being filed with the South African Police Services.
'We bring you the latest Mossel Bay, Garden Route news'