When the Two Oceans Aquarium collections team arrived at Miller’s Point in Simon’s Town yesterday for a routine collection trip, they noticed a stuffed raffia bag lying on the Point’s public slipway.
At first the Aquarium’s Operations Manager Tinus Beukes suspected there was poached abalone inside, but when he and his team looked closer, they discovered a bag full of under-sized West Coast rock lobster tails.
“We arrived at 10 o’clock yesterday morning and saw a tied bag lying on the slipway. I said to Paul [van Nimwegen, Aquarium collections team member], ‘I bet you, that’s poached abalone.’ He went to look in the bag and found under-sized little lobster tails. Then we looked into the bay from a height and saw more bags floating around. Eventually we pulled out six bags, full of tails. We did a quick count and estimated that there were at least 5 000 lobsters in those bags.” There were also hundreds of lobster tails scattered on the ocean floor.
That’s when Tinus called SANParks, who quickly arrived on the scene.
According to Carl Nortier, Senior Section Ranger for SANParks’ Environmental Crimes Investigation Unit, three suspects believed to have been involved with the poaching incident were arrested the night before.
Says Carl: “On Tuesday night we were conducting general night patrols and we observed a suspicious vessel coming in to Miller’s Point. Three men were apprehended. The men tried to get rid of the evidence by dumping the bags and were holding only one bag by the time we made the arrest, but I had taken pictures of the other bags, which will be submitted to evidence.”
On Wednesday morning, Carl and his team reacted to Tinus’ call and went to Miller’s Point to collect the bags found by the team. “The bags collected by the Aquarium contained 4 992 lobster tails in total,” according to Carl.
The sheer quantity of tails discovered by Tinus and his team is frightening and poaching of this size and scale is sure to have a devastating impact on lobster populations.
“The challenges involved with policing a marine protected area like this are many,” says Carl. “It’s a large stretch of coastline so covering it 24/7 is not an easy task, but using the different relevant agencies and everyone working together has been very successful. Everyone fighting the fight makes a big difference.
“We’ve also had a lot of success in terms of the preventative actions we take. We do disruptive patrols, where we try and arrest guys before they get into the sea using relevant legislation, so we can arrest them for attempting to fish.”
“It’s so brazen and this is a public slipway; the guys come out to drop their stash after dark,” says Tinus.
According to Tinus, poaching not only threatens stock levels, but is intrinsically damaging to resource management.
“Research vessels need to do frequent lobster surveys and assessments to work out how many quotas they can assign every year and how big these quotas can be. Poaching totally messes with their calculations.”
Blow your whistle
Should you ever witness a marine poaching operation in greater Cape Town in progress or non-compliance with fishing regulations re number/size of fish, etc, you can contact the Green Scorpions’ 24-hour manned operation room on 028 313 2703.
During office hours, you can also contact the Green Scorpions on 021 402 3361, 021 402 3430, 021 402 3506/16/25/29/33.
Alternatively, or for offences throughout South Africa, whether marine or terrestrial, the 24-hour toll free number for the Independent Environmental Management Inspectorate: 0800 205 005
Current regulations for recreational lobster fishing
In 1960, a daily bag limit for recreational West Coast rock lobster fishing was introduced. The use of SCUBA gear and the sale of the recreational catch were banned. Licenses for the recreational catch of West Coast rock lobster were introduced in 1983. These licenses can be bought at the local post office and are subject to a number of restrictions. These restrictions include:
- Closed season as determined every year
- Size restriction: 80mm carapace length.
- Recreational fishing permits are issued only to persons older than 12 years.
- Collection and landing of West Coast rock lobster may be done only between 08h00 – 16h00 during open season.
- The rock lobsters must be landed by 16h00.
- Any West Coast rock lobster caught, collected or transported must be kept in its whole state.
- West Coast rock lobster caught with a recreational permit may not be sold.
- West Coast female rock lobsters may not be caught while they are in berry (have eggs). These lobsters have to be returned to the sea immediately.