Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area threatened.

AfriOceans reports that attempts are underway to allow line fishing in the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA), which has been established by the South Africa government as a “no-take” zone. In fact, the Tsitsikamma National Park is the oldest (proclaimed in 1964) and largest “no-take” MPA in South Africa and makes a substantial contribution to marine biodiversity protection in the Agulhas Bioregion. This new threat is a secretive process between government departments, after an attempt to open the area to fishing in 2007/8 failed.

Concerned individuals are being encouraged to send comments, which will be forwarded to the relevant minister.

Press Release
Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area Under Threat.

On Friday 8th October AfriOceans was alerted to a rumor that a secretive process within South African National Parks (SANP) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) was underway to open sections of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA) to fishing, and our assistance required. We immediately contacted Feike, the organisations that exposed the initial intention by DEAT (as it was then called) to open the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing in 2007/2008, as well as the media and other conservationists. We have since confirmed the imminent intentions to open sections of the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing, a decision that in a matter of weeks will undo the protection, which a number of species, many severely overfished outside of the MPA, have enjoyed for the past 60 years.

We are horrified that a second covert and unwise attempt is being made to once again undermine sound governance of our oceans. It is of grave concern to us that our government appears to be increasingly migrating to governance, management, and law making by deceit and deception in total disregard of basic laws such as Promotion of Administrative Justice Act. Unless this attempt is halted, AfriOceans will be calling upon the general public and other non profit organizations, both locally and internationally to not only challenge but shame both DEA and DAFF, the custodians of our marine and fisheries resources, and SANP who is tasked with managing the Park.

Shaheen Moolla, Director of Feike, Natural Resource Management Advisers, and legal advisor to AfriOceans says:

“Not only will such an intention undermine decades of science and stock recovery plans for essentially 33 days of sub-optimal levels of “socio-economic” benefit, opening up the MPA will undoubtedly lead to substantial increases in illegal fishing especially since DEA (although legally responsible for MPA management) does not have the resources (financial, equipment and human) to monitor activities in MPA’s as they do not have access to fishery control officers or patrol vessels or boats as these remain under the jurisdiction of Department of Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) – as a result of a previous flawed decision that ignored all prevailing professional and academic opinion.”

“Finally, DEA does not have the legal authority to allocate fishing rights as this authority rests solely with the Minister of DAFF. Any attempt to allocate fishing rights by DEA will be unlawful and Feike will seek the assistance of supporting public interest organisations to challenge the legality of such a decision.”

When the first attempt to open the park was proposed, the marine science community of South Africa drew up a list of reasons supporting why this was a ludicrous idea. This unanimous opinion remains:

  1. South Africa is signatory to international agreements and protocols to establish and maintain marine protected areas (MPAs), inter alia the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Resolutions of the World Parks Congress.
  2. The Tsitsikamma National Park is our oldest (proclaimed in 1964) and largest “no-take” MPA and makes a substantial contribution to marine biodiversity protection in the Agulhas Bioregion.
  3. The marine biodiversity protected within the Tsitsikamma MPA is of immense value to the nation as a whole and its protected status should not be compromised by the needs of a few. In this regard it provides us with an invaluable benchmark against which changes in adjacent exploited areas can be measured.
  4. The precedent set by opening a national park, which is zoned as a “no-take” MPA, to harvesting, could jeopardize the status of other protected areas (both marine and terrestrial) in South Africa.
  5. According to the recent Agulhas Bioregion Systematic Conservation Plan, the marine biodiversity protected within the Tsitsikamma MPA is “irreplaceable” and if compromised by societal needs, would have to be replaced elsewhere along the coast to achieve effective marine biodiversity protection targets.
  6. There are many species of linefish (particularly resident, reef-associated species) protected within the Tsitsikamma MPA. Many of these species have been severely over-fished (i.e. to below 25% of their pristine biomass) in exploited areas outside the MPA.
  7. Most of these species are slow-growing, late-maturing and resident for at least part of their lives, making them exceptionally vulnerable to exploitation. It will thus take very little fishing effort to deplete the linefish stocks in Tsitsikamma.
  8. Research has shown that the abundance and size of many of these resident fish species, and of inter and subtidal invertebrates, is considerably greater within the MPA compared to adjacent exploited areas. Furthermore, it has been shown that these protected stocks are able to “seed” adjacent exploited areas by export of eggs and larvae and that there is also “spillover” of juveniles and adults into adjacent exploited areas.
  9. The greater size and age of fish protected within the MPA ensures that they can produce a considerably greater number of more viable offspring which are genetically “fitter” than those produced by smaller fish in exploited areas.
  10. Opening of the MPA to fishing would thus result in the rapid depletion of healthy stocks to the detriment of the local fishery and, more importantly, to the detriment of the commercial and recreational fisheries operating in areas adjacent to the MPA. The short-term benefits accrued by communities given access to fish in the MPA would therefore result in a net loss to both marine biodiversity and linefishing industry as a whole, as evidenced by recent economic surveys and analyses.
  11. As scientists we need “evidence based” arguments and we have very valuable economic and social research on the issue commissioned by WWF and carried out by Anchor Environmental Consultants (see report on WWF website). This report shows that the total economic value of the Tsitsikamma MPA (including Robberg and Goukamma MPAs) is estimated to be in the order of R 421 million per annum, of which R 33 million is from the export of fish eggs and larvae to surrounding areas.
  12. Opening of the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing, even if only in small areas along the shore for coastal communities living directly inland of the MPA, is thus contrary to all scientific advice provided by both government and independent scientists.
  13. We are certain that an alternative solution could be found to provide adjacent communities with benefits from the MPA rather than by allowing direct access by fishing. For example, the tourist trade associated with the park could support much expanded community based enterprise if the community is empowered to participate.

We encourage all concerned citizens and individuals to voice their opinion and to send us comments which we will forward to the Minister.