Talk on Sustainable Fishing

Whale Coast Conservation’s second public talk in June was on the critical issue of sustainable fishing. The speakers from WWF-SA were John Duncan, Senior Manager of the Marine Programme, and Mkhululi Silandela, small-scale fisheries officer in the Kogelberg area.

WCC Board member Dr Pat Miller (Middle) John Duncan (left) and Mkhululi Silandela (Right)

John Duncan first gave an overview of the WWF Marine Programme. He started with a quote fromThomas Huxley, 1883: “Probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say, that nothing we do seriously affects the number of fish”.(Royal Commission on Sea Fisheries in the UK). How wrong he was, as we now know, a mere 130 years later. That’s the very bad news.

The good news is that the WWF small scale fishing programme is attempting to address some of these problems in the Overstrand Kogelberg region. Mkhululi Silandela described the WWF-SA initiative in Kleinmond which is aiming to address the serious issues.

More than 80% of the world’s fish stocks are fully fished or overfished. Some species, like the cod, have all but disappeared. In South African waters we no longer see much geelbek, roman or silver kob.

So why are the fish disappearing? Unfortunately the explanation is all too simple: we are fishing out too many of them.

Global per capita fish consumption has increased from an average of 9.9 kg in the 1960s to 16.4 kg in 2005.This is not surprising as seafood is seen as healthy and trendy, and a better alternative to red meat. Human population has increased from 2.5 billion in 1950 and will reach an estimated 9 billion by 2050. Increasing demand for seafood is bought at a high price to our environment.

Fishing has become so effective that there are now too many boats chasing too few fish.

Fish are not just caught for human consumption though; approximately 30% of the global catch is used for fishmeal in other agricultural products such as chickens, pigs, and other aquacultured species.

At the same time almost a quarter of the world’s fish catches are discarded, normally dead, back into the ocean. The rest of the fish caught is used for human consumption, leaving too few fish in the ocean to produce more fish for the future.

But the ecological dangers of fishing extend far beyond just the target stocks. Fishing has a number of impacts on marine ecosystems. One of the biggest impacts is by-catch, which makes up approximately a quarter of the total global catch. Often they are vulnerable species such as seabirds, turtles, sharks and marine mammals.

In South Africa, sustainability certification standards are too difficult to attain, specifically by small-scale fisheries. So WWF adopted a practical, step-wise approach in their Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) to help these fisheries by engaging the market to support them up to a point where they can meet creditable environmental standards. The programme focuses on rebuilding depleted stocks such as abalone, rock lobster and key line-fish species; moving away from single-species allocations towards a multi-species basket; protecting vulnerable species and habitats; establishing a rights holding organisation and a fish marketing cooperative to improve the small scale fishers’ bargaining power; addressing poaching through partnerships; developing a local economy around small scale fishing; and a comprehensive skills training program. Extensive consultation with local fishers has led to good buy-in to the programme.

What can we do to help? As consumers we have much more power than we think. Each one of us can take care to eat only those species on the SASSI green list and can choose environmentally certified products. The positive impact on suppliers cannot be overestimated.

This meeting was sponsored by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.