Crime boom for Cape fishing towns
FISHING communities plagued by rampant abalone poaching say crime-syndicates and gangsters are slowly taking over coastal towns.
This follows the release of a report on the effects of abalone poaching in small-scale fishing communities by the Western Cape Legislature’s standing committee on economic development, tourism and agriculture.
According to the committee’s chairperson, Beverley Schäfer, the illegal poaching of abalone costs the local economy R1 billion annually, with over 90% of abalone on the market being obtained illegally.
The report also says seven million abalone are being poached every year‚ up from four million in 2008, when commercial fishing was closed off due to severe depletion.
Areas like Saldanha Bay, Hermanus, Melkbosstrand and Gansbaai have been identified as hotspots for poachers.
“Abalone populations currently sit at 20% of former levels having decreased by an alarming 15% in the past five years,” said Schäfer.
“As South Africa is the world’s third largest supplier of farmed abalone, fishermen and women have capitalised on the illegal poaching and sale of this marine produce as a means to escape poverty.
“As such, organised crime and gang-related activity have become involved in this illegal trade, bringing the drug use and heightened violence to these communities.
“Illegal poaching is most prevalent among individuals without fishing rights or quotas which are supposed to be handed by the Department of Forestry and Fisheries.”
Schäfer said poaching was affecting the tourism industry in small communities.
“Local and international tourists alike are intimidated by gangsters and poachers who have moved into these coastal areas and the usual influx of money into these communities as a result of coastal tourism has ceased completely.”
She said another cause for concern was the department’s selling of confiscated abalone at prices far below market value. “This has resulted in the South African market for abalone becoming less competitive for other sellers,” she said.
“There is no quality standard the abalone has to meet before it is sold, hence sub-standard abalone is often sold to international markets.”
A member of Community Against Abalone Poaching, who asked not to be identified, said one of the reasons for the increase in poaching was the lack of police visibility along beaches.
“On a good day you will find hundreds of poachers in Gansbaai going about their business uninterrupted, in broad daylight,” he said.
“And with gangsters having marked a lot of these places as their territory, nothing is done to them and they operate freely, making large amounts of money.
“This then attracts a lot of young unemployed youths who see it as an opportunity to get money. This is also drawing in children as young as 13 years old who leave school to become poachers and tell their teachers they can earn double their salaries in a matter of weeks and therefore don’t see the need for an education.
“And those who are not paid in money are paid in drugs, which creates a whole new set of problems. And then you have people in a small community like Gansbaai with a lot of money and not a lot to spend it on. It is going to go to drugs.”
‘Hundreds of poachers go about their business in broad daylight’