Fishing in the Tsitsikamma MPA endangers our national fish stocks

WESSA is strongly opposed to the recent bid to open the Tsitsikamma National Park Marine Protected Area to recreational and subsistence fishing as we believe that this move would endanger our national fish stocks.
The National Department of Environmental Affairs (the DEA) has made this proposal at the behest of disadvantaged rural communities in the coastal area surrounding the Marine Protected Area (MPA), who historically fished this coastline but whose fishing access has been completely denied since 2001.
The DEA has previously made two attempts, in 2007 and 2010, to open this MPA to fishing at the behest of these communities.  Then as now WESSA remains strongly opposed to permitting any form of fishing in the Tsitsikamma MPA, as we are certain that this would significantly compromise this critical marine biodiversity area. 
The vital importance of no-take MPAs in conserving fish broodstocks and in being able to set sustainable fishing quotas is globally acknowledged in fisheries management.
The Tsitsikamma MPA is a refuge for eleven of South Africa’s seventeen threatened fish species and encompasses essential breeding grounds for the line-fish and squid fisheries, according to research by WWF-SA’s Living Waters Partnership.  
Outside of the Tsitsikamma and other MPAs our fish stocks have been severely over-exploited, some close to the point of total collapse.  The refuge populations in the MPAs are the last remaining healthy broodstock, which seeds the denuded coastline with juvenile fish. The greater size and maturity of fish protected within MPAs ensures that they can produce a considerably greater number of viable offspring than the sparse populations in unprotected areas. 
While WESSA is cognisant and empathetic of the complex issues surrounding the access by disadvantaged rural communities to marine resources, we believe that the marine biodiversity protected within the Tsitsikamma National Park MPA is of immense value to the nation as a whole and that its protected status should not be compromised by the needs of a few. 
Morgan Griffiths, WESSA’s Environmental Governance spokesperson, says:  “We have over-utilised most of our finite natural resources to such an extent that there is now simply not enough left to satisfy everyone’s wants and needs. We now need to make these difficult choices about who gets what limited access to these dwindling resources. Who has the greater need? What is the greater good that needs to be objectively protected?”
For more information contact:
Morgan Griffiths
WESSA Environmental Governance Programme Manager
Tel: 041 585 9606 ǀ Cell: 072 417 5793
Catherine Ritchie
WESSA Marketing & Communications Manager
Tel:  021 701 1397 ǀ Cell:  082 321 2794
Additional background information:
  • WESSA has written to the National Department of Environmental Affairs with an official objection against permitting fishing in the Tsitsikamma MPA.  This letter may be viewed via this link.
  • WESSA supported the creation of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 1964, whose principal objective was to conserve a fish breeding and dispersal site for seeding the flanking coastline.  The Tsitsikamma MPA was declared a completely ‘no-take’ zone in 2001 by Minister Valli Moosa because of the urgent and scientifically-justified need to protect the national line-fish stocks from total collapse.
  • It would seem that only 9% of South Africa’s coastline is currently declared as a no-take MPAs.  WESSA understands that the national target for no-take MPAs is 10%, hence to allow fishing to resume in the Tsitsikamma would be to directly act against this national conservation goal.
  • The local, disadvantaged rural communities have identified that fishing had formed part of their culture and fish an important component of their diet.  This and the lack of access to alternative fishing sites has caused a significant number of the members of these communities to illegally fish within the MPA.
  • WESSA has in the past supported the scientifically-justified sustainable utilisation of natural resources in protected areas by local communities; but in this case, we feel the national interest needs to prevail.  WESSA recognises that the local communities do need to derive more direct and indirect benefits from the TNP (particularly that of jobs) and to gain additional access opportunities to the TNP.  These benefits flowing from the TNP need to be more fairly shared across the different Tsitsikamma community groups and individuals.  We recognise that SANParks has improved their engagement with the neighbouring communities over the last few years, but that greater capacity development initiatives are needed for these communities and for them to get more say in management of the TNP.
  • To allow fishing of this national asset is comparably to spending the capital of a national inheritance and not just sustainably utilising the annual natural interest.  By allowing a local minority to access this valuable natural resource would ultimately make the much broader national community of subsistence, commercial and recreational fishers dependent on this MPA even poorer.
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