South Africa's depleted abalone stocks will not recover unless illegal fishing is reduced dramatically.
This grim warning was sounded in a report tabled today at a meeting of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The report from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) comes in the wake of violent clashes at the weekend between alleged poachers in the Western Cape fishing community of Hawston and the police.
The report said that the recovery of abalone (also known as perlemoen) was not meeting the targeted recovery levels.
"The demand for the wild product far exceeds supply and its extremely high value continues to drive illegal fishing," the report said.
According to the document, the illegal fishing of abalone was several times above the total allowable catch level and was continuing to depress stock recovery.
"The stock will not recover to the target levels unless illegal fishing can be reduced dramatically for a sustained period through effective implementation of the Integrated Fisheries Security Strategy."
Acting DAFF Deputy Director General Ceba Mtoba told the portfolio committee that the safety of South Africa's coastline was a serious concern "not only to Members of Parliament but to all of us".
He added: "We have patrol vessels and small craft that are not sufficient to deal with our marine resources. Collaboration between the navy and other law enforcement agencies can be beneficial to our country."
Referring to the incident in Hawston, Mtoba said it was but one problem area, highlighting that another Western Cape fishing village, Paternoster, was another one.
"We need a multi-faceted approach. The navy can play an important role in sea-based law enforcement."
Meanwhile, DAFF said in the report that eight of the 22 fishing rights licences issued in 2006 were due to expire on 31 December 2013. The affected species were KZN prawn trawl, demersal shark, squid, tuna pole, hake hand line, white mussels, oysters and traditional line fish.
Of South Africa's other fishing stocks, the report said hake had recovered quicker than expected and might achieve recovery levels by 2012 instead of 2014 as initially envisaged. South Coast rock lobster resources were on track to reach the 2015 target.
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