Crime boom for Cape fish­ing towns

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - TSHEGO LEPULE

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’

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