Experimental Threshold (ET) programme to co-manage 10 bycatch species
South Africa has been harvesting hake, sole and other marine resources through trawl fishing for over one hundred years. Trawling – the practice of fishing by dragging a large net along the bottom of the ocean floor — has been in the cross-hairs of controversy for decades. On the one hand, it allows for the capture of large volumes of fish; in some cases, up to hundreds of tons in a single trip. In light of the estimated 791 million people in developing countries to be chronically hungry, the desirability of such a powerful technology that allows for high-volume harvesting of rich fish sources is understandable.
On the other hand, there are serious ecological concerns associated with trawl fishing, namely the large catches of marine species not targeted but caught anyway (the “bycatch”) and damage to the habitat by the dragging of the fishing gear. Bycatch is recognised as one of the biggest problems in managing marine ecosystems today. Estimates of the global annual bycatch are around 38.5 million tonnes with approximately 40% of the entire marine catch made up of bycatch. Scientist struggle to manage these bycatches because the reporting of the catches is often poor. The fishing of bycatch has contributed to the decline of many marine species, including vulnerable animals such as turtles and slow-growing fish.
For the past several years, the South African inshore trawl sector through its industry body – the South East Coast Industrial Fishing Association (SECIFA) – has been working closely with scientists from the University of Cape Town to improve the data recording and management of 10 bycatch species in the sector. These 10 species, together with the target species of hake and sole, make up approximately 95% of the total catch in the sector. As a result of this Fishery Conservation Project (FCP), SECIFA is now monitoring its catches of these 10 bycatch species on a monthly basis and has agreed to test out strategies of keeping members within annual catch limits for these species. Through the support of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and NGOs such as WWF and the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA), changes are underway to improve the reporting of bycatch to fisheries scientists at DAFF that manage the stocks. Watch this space!
South African Hake Longline Association Fishery Conservation Project
The South African hake longline fishery is one of South Africa’s most valuable fisheries. The sector receives approximately 6% of the total allowable catch (TAC) for hake. In 2013, through the South African Hake Longline Association (SAHLLA), the sector entered into a Fishery Conservation Project (FCP) with the WWF. The chief goals of the project are to gather better information on the impact of fishing on the surrounding ecosystem and take positive action to improve the sustainability of the sector’s products.
A major milestone in the FCP was reached at the end of 2014 – the sector completed one-year of independent at-sea observer coverage of its fishing to understand better the impacts of its fishing on the marine ecosystem. Specifically, scientific observers recorded key data on the non-target species (bycatch) landed by the sector and interactions with seabirds, among other things. As a result, the sector is now working closely with the WWF and BirdLife International to undertake responsible fisheries training and it is developing tori lines to protect seabirds during fishing operations.