Today is World Wildlife Day, and the clarion call is: It’s time to get serious about wildlife crime.

Wildlife crime encompasses poaching and the illegal trade in live or dead animals, and plants. According to the WWF, the trade in wildlife is the fifth most profitable illicit trade in the world, estimated at up to $10 billion annually. It sits alongside the illegal drug trade, human trafficking and the trade in counterfeit goods.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says in his message on the World Wildlife Day website, “Illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law and threatens national security; it degrades ecosystems and is a major obstacle to the efforts of rural communities and indigenous peoples striving to sustainably manage their natural resources. Combatting this crime is not only essential for conservation efforts and sustainable development, it will contribute to achieving peace and security in troubled regions where conflicts are fuelled by these illegal activities”.

In South Africa poaching is considered a serious crime and marine life, like perlemoen (abalone) and crayfish stocks, are fast dwindling.

The abalone story alone reads like a cheap thriller – sex, drugs, poaching, smuggling, Chinese mafia syndicates, corruption and black markets are all part of the plot. Abalone is a highly-prized delicacy and aphrodisiac in the Far East. The Chinese mafia (Triads) recruits divers from previously disadvantaged communities to dive for abalone which is sold at high prices on the black market in the Far East. The South African government uses army helicopters, fishery patrol vessels and sniffer dogs in an attempt to combat poaching, but corruption is so rife that there are reported accounts of illegal abalone being transported in police cars, ambulances and even smuggled into military aircraft.

Eight-month-old baby abalone, called spat. Only farmed juveniles show these brilliant colours at this age as a result of their diet. Photo by Helen Lockhart

If poaching continues at current rates, abalone will soon be extinct in the wild and this will have a devastating impact on the ecological balance of kelp forests as well as on local communities in the future.

South Africa’s Marine Living Resources Act affects all who use the living resources in the sea, including commercial, recreational and subsistence fishers.

The fishing regulations stipulated in the Act aim to protect the rights of all fishers and should be adhered to at all times.

Full-grown abalone. At the end of the little stalks are the animal's eyes. Photo by Rob Tarr

Some points to remember when fishing:

  1. Undersized fish, perlemoen and crayfish should be returned to the ocean to ensure that they can reach maturity, and are able to breed, which in turn will guarantee that there will be fish for future generations
  2. Fish should not be caught out of season. There are closed seasons, which have been declared to protect fish when they are vulnerable
  3. It is important that fishers do not take more than their share. There are bag limits to ensure that the total harvest for each species is kept at a sustainable level, and that everyone gets their fair share

If you witness marine poaching or non-compliance with fishing regulations contact the Green Scorpions, in Hermanus, on 028 313 2703. All calls are recorded, logged and acted upon.

Alternatively, for offences throughout the republic, whether marine or terrestrial, the 24-hour toll-free number for the Independent Environmental Management Inspectorate is 0800 205 005.

The Two Oceans Aquarium encourages everyone to take heed of the Marine Living Resources Act and to act responsibly towards wildlife. Helen Lockhart, the Aquarium’s Communications & Sustainability Manager says, “Let’s get serious about wildlife crime in our oceans. Please respect and obey bag limits, size limits and season restrictions. Please don't buy illegally caught seafood. Let’s appreciate the beauty and diversity of our oceans: they belong to everyone and it is our responsibility to safeguard them for future generations."

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