Clive Elmo points out the newly opened fishing area.
TSITSIKAMMA NEWS - While local fishermen have welcomed the decision to open sections of South Africa’s oldest marine-protected area for fishing, marine conservationists are calling for an explanation of the decision.
Last month, on December 19, the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs gave the final green light to rezone a section of the Tsitsikamma marine-protected area (MPA) to allow fishing along about 20% of the protected coastline.
This followed more than 20 years' discussion with local anglers, who felt that they had been stripped of their fishing rights when the MPA was declared more than 50 years ago. They claimed that it had been done without a public participation process.
While plans for the rezoning received massive support from local fishermen, it also sparked major opposition from marine conservationists and other role players, saying it would not only set a dangerous precedent for other MPAs, but could have a devastating impact on fish stocks.
Some of the main concerns include the potential damage to fish populations as research has shown that many fish species are resident, slow growing and would be rapidly fished down to levels similar to that found outside the park.
Friends of Tsitsikamma Association spokesperson Judy Mann said the decision to open 20% of the MPA shoreline to recreational fishing “flew in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence backed by the majority of experienced marine scientists in South Africa, who supported maintaining it as a no-take area”.
“We have repeatedly explained to the government decision makers the immense value of the marine resources that have been protected in the Tsitsikamma MPA for so many years. This scientific advice has fallen on deaf ears.
"In addition, an extensive public participation process early in 2016 revealed overwhelming public support for the retention of the no-take MPA. The Friends of Tsitsikamma are concerned that the comments made by over 700 South African citizens have been largely ignored in favour of a selected local community,” Mann said.
She added that to date there has been no feedback to those who submitted comments and the public participation process appears to have been "yet another example of rubber stamping”.
“This happened in the Dwesa-Cwebe MPA, where advice from marine scientists and citizens was ignored.”
Mann said this decision by those charged with the protection of the environment raises “grave concerns” for the future sustainable management of the country’s protected areas.
“It appears that the needs of a few will now take precedence over the national and global importance of these natural treasures.”
She added that in accordance with the Public Access to Information Act, the Friends of Tsitsikamma would request from the department a full explanation as to the rationale for the decision and how the public participation process was handled.
“The fact that this decision was made public, yet again, just before Christmas suggests that the responsible individuals are aware of the controversial nature of their decision and have attempted to avoid public outcry.”