A FISHING consortium has paid over a R60000 fine after two of its boats were caught inside the Bird Island marine protected area (MPA). Announcing news of the bust, SANParks also yesterday pledged rewards for further information leading to successful prosecution of illegal activity inside the flagship MPA.
The fine was handed down following a swoop by SANParks marine rangers on the boats Willehans and Stan, which were anchored inside the MPA. Fishing is prohibited in this five square nautical mile zone around the island.
Manning the strike vessel Mkhuseli, the rangers took the fishing boats by surprise, SANParks spokesman Fayroush Ludick said
"The rangers did not board the boats – which together were crewed by 17 men. But we showed the skippers on GPS that they were in the MPA.
"They were then instructed to follow our vessel back to PE harbour where fisheries’ department officials had already been alerted to meet us.
"With their help, the two boats were then searched and their combined haul of 2005kgs of fish – mostly yellow tail but also red roman, Miss Lucy and santer – was confiscated.”
The skippers were not arrested but the owning consortium was instructed to appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court on Thursday. oct 25 Representatives did appear as instructed, and they were charged with "fishing gear not stowed away whilst in Bird Island MPA”.
"They were then sentenced to a fine of R30000 or six months imprisonment, for each boat. Both fines, a total of R60000, were paid by the owners.”
The mountain of fresh, confiscated fish has already been auctioned by the fisheries’ department to a local wholesaler, for R50000, with the money to be channelled into the department’s Marine Living Resources Fund.
In terms of the court order, the vessels were handed back to the
consortium. The consortium cannot be named as it will jeopardise future
Although "fishing in an MPA” carries a much higher penalty it is harder to prove, with courts typically calling for "caught in the act” evidence. So the "fishing gear not stowed away” charge is often the route taken by the authorities, Ludick explained.
She said SANParks was satisfied with the sentence although the auction value of the fish showed the seriousness of the crime and pointed to the need for even tougher sentences.
"These particular vessels anyway will presumably be very careful from now on as a repeat offence by either can result in a fine of at least R100000 for each boat.”
The case is very important because of the vital conservation role played by MPAs, she said.
"MPAs are proclaimed in order to protect fish populations and give them a chance to recover where they’ve been over-fished.
"They contribute to the long-term sustainable utilisation of these fish, so there are implications for food security and job creation.”
Scientists have shown that if an MPA is properly policed and managed, fish populations increase then saturate the zone, and the excess fish which are pushed out migrate into previously over-exploited areas, replenishing them.
"So illegal action like we had here contradicts the key objectives of the MPAs. The fish are not given a chance to grow and spawn in a protected area, thus reducing their ability to migrate and replenish over-exploited areas.”
The MPA is also key to the fight to save the endangered African penguin, as diminishing food is thought to be one of the reasons for the bird’s sharp decline. There are now just 9812 African penguin breeding pairs left in Algoa Bay principally on St Croix and Bird islands, Ludick noted. This is thought to be at least about half the global population of the African penguin, which ranges around the coast as far as Namibia. in the 1920s there were about a million pairs.
The penguins feed on sardines and pilchard and penguin specialist Dr Lorien Pichegru has been calling for MPAs to be established and extended around all their island colonies, to protect this prey fish.
By doing so, the penguins will not have to forage so far, thus reducing the mortality of untended chicks, and improving the adults’ condition for breeding, she argues.
SANParks is in the meantime planning a 120km² MPA which will cover the eastern quadrant of Algoa Bay and which will include the existing Bird Island MPA. Once established, this mega-MPA will help to solve a range of marine conservation crises, Ludick said.
"The aim is to protect key marine species like abalone (perlemoen) and several line fish species and to secure and protect food resources for the penguins and other endangered species.”
If this vision is achieved, the Addo Elephant National Park will stretch from the Karoo into Algoa Bay, becoming one of the few parks in the world of this kind, and with such diversity.
The project was launched six years ago but SANParks is intent on workshopping it with all stakeholders including recreational and commercial fishermen, shipping and industry like Transnet and Coega. The aim is to achieve concensus on different zonations, kinds of use and intensity, and this process is still underway, Ludick said.
In the meanwhile, all users of the bay must ensure they know the co-ordinates of the existing Bird Island MPA and stay clear of it, she urged.
People with information regarding illegal activity in the MPA can contact the park reception (042) 233-8600 or the fisheries department at (041) 585-4051.
"Rewards will be paid for information leading to arrest and successful convictions,” she said.