SAAMBR responds to proposed opening of Tsitsikamma National Park to recreational shore angling

The Tsitsikamma National Park (TNP) is the oldest marine protected area (MPA) in southern Africa. For over 50 years the fish and invertebrates living in the MPA have been protected from exploitation.

These healthy populations of marine animals are able to breed unhindered, and their eggs and larvae drift out of the reserve and settle in areas adjacent to the protected area. In this way the protected area replenishes the stock of fish and invertebrates in the coastal waters surrounding the MPA, ensuring that people living adjacent to the reserve are able to sustainably harvest fish and invertebrates – for recreational and commercial purposes as well as for food security.

The unspoilt beauty of the Tsitsikamma coastline

In 2007 and again in 2010, proposals were made to the South African government to open the reserve to limited fishing for the local community. In both cases, the incumbent ministers of the environment came to the conclusion that the marine resources of Tsitsikamma were a precious resource worth protecting. The opening of the reserve to fishing would provide very short-term benefits to very few people – to the detriment of both the local communities adjacent to the park, and the people of South Africa.

The issue did not end in 2010, and the current Minister of Environmental Affairs has proposed that four sections of the reserve be rezoned for recreational shore fishing, limited exclusively to registered local community members. This proposal was published in the Government Gazette and is open for public comment until 1 February 2016. However, the Minister has already given the go-ahead to open the reserve to fishing on a "trial" basis, starting on the 15 December 2015, effectively giving the public no opportunity to comment!

Scientists have estimated that it would take as little as 40 days for the resident fish populations to be fished down to low levels. The fish “capital”, built up over 50 years, would be quickly withdrawn from the “biological bank” known as the TNP, resulting in the loss of valuable “interest” in the form of eggs and larvae currently replenishing the adjacent fishing areas. If the pilot goes ahead, it is likely that by the time the public participation process has been completed, the local inshore fish and invertebrate populations will have already been decimated.

The Minister of Environmental Affair’s proposal sets two dangerous precedents: (1) the granting of exclusive extractive rights for recreational purposes to a limited number of people living adjacent to a protected area; and (2) the flouting of due process (i.e. no public consultation).

SAAMBR believes that the proposed trial fishing by local community members due to start on 15 December 2015 is ill-advised. The full public participation process should be allowed to take place, and the Minister of Environmental Affairs needs to take heed of sound scientific advice and public opinion before deciding whether or not to open the Tsitsikamma MPA to limited shore angling.

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