A broader perspective on Marine Conservation
by John Duncan and Junaid Francis

African penguins at artificial nest boxes

One of the challenges faced by conservation practitioners around the world are the challenges from some groups of stakeholders that they feel that they are the only ones who are expected to change while other stakeholders are often allowed to continue with business-as-usual. When working with communities and small-scale fishers around Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), who are often the stakeholder groups that are most impacted by these conservation tools, it is therefore important to highlight some of the work that is being done with other marine resource users to help secure the future of marine ecosystems.

Understanding that they are part of a much bigger group of people, all of whom are reliant on healthy ecosystems, and that they are not alone in tackling what can sometimes seem like an insurmountable challenge.

It is for this reason that it is important to highlight WWF’s ongoing work with some of South Africa’s larger commercial fisheries, who are another key stakeholder in discussions around marine conservation. Since 2009, the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA), a partnership between WWF South Africa, BirdLife South Africa and four major fishing companies, has been working towards the shared goal of implementing an Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries (EAF) management in South African fisheries. Although the relationship between environmental NGOs and fishing companies has not always been an easy one, through the creation of the RFA, stakeholders are now able to tackle some of the big challenges collaboratively and the last few years have seen some significantly positive shifts.

Since its inception, the RFA has been involved in a number of projects aimed at tackling the challenges of fishing responsibly, ranging from mitigating seabird bycatch to improving fishers’ understanding of the EAF through Responsible Fisheries training programmes. The RFA has recently committed a number of new projects, which will enable the Alliance to contribute toward addressing some key local fisheries concerns, such as the state of vulnerable fish species and declining African penguin population numbers, by encouraging cooperative governance and advocating for evidence-based decision making. By embarking on a project with an emphasis on safeguarding key bycatch species in the inshore trawl fishery, RFA efforts will also contribute towards the development of a co-management system which is envisaged to provide a mechanism whereby bycatch can be regulated without providing individual rights holders with an incentive to discard catch. The management plan will commit industry to develop and regulate fishing quotas which are set in concert with government-determined catch limits with the aim of limiting the impacts of the fishery on vulnerable fish species while preserving its economic viability.

Hake trawler with tori lines

The impact of fishing on African penguins remains a salient issue for the Alliance and, as such, a project has been initiated that strives to examine the impact of the small pelagic fishery on the African penguin populations of Bird Island and St Croix Island. This unique experiment will increase immensely our understanding of penguin behaviour in relation to variability in their prey availability and how these are influenced by fishing pressure. The findings of this study will be used to improve the efficacy of fishing closures in view of both the economic sensitivities of the fishery and the biologic needs of the African penguin.

Additionally, the Alliance is also committed to advocating for responsible fishing practices through a project seeking to adapt the principles underpinning the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and developing a localised version for South African fisheries. This generic code will then be used to lobby each South African fishery to develop and implement a fishery-specific Code of Conduct. The project is aimed at furnishing local fisheries with a set of principles and standards of behaviour to encourage responsible fishing practices and the implementation of an EAF.

Lastly, an exciting study has been commissioned by the RFA to streamline the local fisheries data management model by enriching the local model with lessons learnt from an analysis of international best practice models. Current methods to collect, capture and process fisheries data are inefficient, often leaving decision makers without adequate access to timeous fisheries data. This project will seek to provide managers with access to ‘real time’ data thereby ensuring that decision-making is based on defensible scientific evidence.

St Helena sardine trawler

When coupled with WWF’s work through the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), it becomes clear that an increasingly broad group of stakeholders are starting to engage with WWF on the challenges facing our oceans. While the challenges may be different, the goal remains the same, healthy marine ecosystems which provide long-term benefits to all.

For more information about the RFA’s work, please see the RFA’s website: http://www.rfalliance.org.za/

For more information about SASSI’s work, please see the SASSI’s website: www.wwf.org.za/sassi


Signs of hope for SA’s linefish
By John Duncan – Senior Manager WWF-SA Marine Programme

Rock surf Anglers PHOTO: Peter Chadwick

In the sea of unending stories of despair around fisheries collapse and increasing poverty in coastal communities, the recent news that for the first time in over a decade, some of our critically over-exploited linefish species are starting to show signs of recovery shines through as a beacon of hope.

Although the local linefishery may not be a significant revenue earner in terms of direct earnings compared to the hake trawl fishery, it is a very important fishery, both culturally and economically. The recent news that some of the commercially important linefish species such as kob and carpenter have started to show signs of recovery will no doubt be welcomed by many, including the estimated 130 000 people around South Africa who generate some form of livelihood from the fishery.

However, before every man and his dog reaches for his fishing rod, it is important to understand what the science is telling us. The good news is that these stocks appear to be increasing; however, the bad news is that these stocks are still well below the optimal harvesting level commonly known as maximum sustainable yield (MSY). In simplified medical terms, these stocks are still not well enough to leave the hospital but they are at least no longer in the intensive care unit.

Fishermen's 4x4's on the beach PHOTO: Peter Chadwick

While these findings represent a cautiously positive story for fishers, the initial indications of linefish stocks rebuilding tell a much more important story, one that is perhaps harder to hear but that our current fishers and managers would do well to take note of; Twelve years ago the Department declared a state of emergency in the traditional linefishery. The best available science indicated that many of our commercially important linefish stocks had been depleted to less than 15% of their pristine levels and would soon be remembered only from the black and white trophy photographs found hanging in your local pub.

In the face of this crisis, the Department needed to make some difficult and often unpopular decisions, one of which was to cut the number of licenses in the fishery by more than 70%. Towards the end of 2001, further steps were then taken with the implementation of the highly contentious beach-driving ban which resulted in many previously-fished areas becoming de facto reserves as most fishers were no longer able to access them. At the time, the Department was heavily criticized for these decisions and faced a number of challenges, legal and otherwise from the public and affected fishers. However, to its credit, the Department stood firm on these decisions, which is why today, more than a decade later, we are starting to see some of these linefish populations starting to rebound. Although it is difficult to quantify the impact of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) at such large scales, it is almost certain that the creation of these refuge areas for many key linefish species, has also played a role in effecting this recovery.

In a world where we are increasingly faced with stories of fisheries collapse and the resultant poverty and hunger which follows in the wake of overfishing, these signs of recovery are indeed heartening. Critically, they highlight the importance of having robust scientific information upon which to base management decisions and being brave enough to implement them in the face of the political challenges that will inevitably follow.

This is all the more important given the impending implementation of the government’s new small-scale fisheries policy which will govern the management of many important inshore resources such as rock-lobsters, abalone and most linefish species. This much-anticipated policy, which has been in development for over 6 years, represents a sea-change in the government’s approach to the management of small-scale fisheries. The policy, which will effectively see coastal communities becoming increasingly empowered to manage their local marine resources themselves, presents a number of novel opportunities for the development of this historically marginalized fishing sector, however, there are also a number of risks in the policy’s approach and as always, the devil is in the details…

Red Stumpnose juvenile in kelp forest PHOTO: Peter Chadwick

Much has changed over the last decade, not all for the worse.  South Africa has a very proud tradition of fisheries management dating back over a hundred years to the appointment of the government’s first fisheries scientist in 1907. South Africa was also the first African country to declare an MPA (Tsitsikamma), which is now almost half a century old.

Safeguarding our marine resources and the science-based approach to their management is a critical piece of the puzzle in ensuring that South Africa continues to enjoy healthy marine ecosystems. In implementing the drastic measures it did in the linefishery twelve years ago, our government showed that it was willing to make hard decisions, difficult as they were at the time, in order to prioritize the long-term survival of our marine ecosystems and the fishers that depend on them.

With the implementation of the new small-scale fisheries policy and in the face of growing threats of mining in the marine environment, the government will once again face some difficult decisions. It is our hope that in making these decisions, the Department will not allow good science to be trumped by politics, because while our politicians may serve us for only five years, if well looked after, our marine ecosystems will continue to provide a source of food and livelihood to society indefinitely.



When Seafood time comes around, choose Green!

If in any doubt what's on the Green list then send an SMS to 079-499-8795

As part of Honda Marine’s strong ongoing partnership with the WWF, we bring you the following important information on choosing what seafood to buy. ‘Our oceans are under pressure. The UN estimates that a quarter of all fisheries are now classified as overfished or depleted, approximately 25% of what is caught is thrown back, often dead and wasted, and, because no fishing gear is completely selective, many endangered and vulnerable species are accidentally caught as bycatch. Meanwhile, the appetite for seafood continues to grow; the average person eats 6 kg more fish every year now than in the 60’s.’

This is hardly surprising as seafood is considered healthy, trendy and a better environmental choice than meat.  But the demand for seafood now surpasses the supply; in a world where fishing is central to the livelihood and food security of millions of people, this is a real cause for concern.

So what are the issues we, as environmentally savvy consumers, should be aware of when buying seafood? At the end of the day, isn’t all seafood equal? The short answer is no. But, like everything else we do, seafood consumption has complex environmental consequences that are difficult to condense into an easy answer.

The first thing to know is that there are many different methods used to harvest seafood, each of which has their own associated environmental impacts. The question to ask is, how successful is a particular fishing method at catching what it intends to catch? The UN reports that 27 million tons of bycatch (living things caught in nets unintentionally) die each year. A high level of bycatch in a fishery should set off environmental alarm bells; many of the species caught play important roles in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems and are extremely vulnerable to even low levels of mortality.

So, in a world where such a large percentage of the wild-caught fish stocks are vastly depleted, couldn’t fish farming be the answer? Well, yes and no. Aquaculture provides one out of every four fish eaten in the world today and holds much promise. However, the associated risks of aquaculture, such as the possible spread of diseases from farmed to wild-caught fish, cannot be ignored.
Luckily, choosing sustainably is so much easier with WWF SASSI’s colour-coded seafood pocket guide. The list categorises selected seafood species according to their conservation status: species on the Red list should never be bought (as they are either illegal or considered unsustainable), Orange-listed species have associated ecological reasons for concern, and Green-listed species are the most sustainable choices available, from the best managed populations. The nifty FishMS also brings the list to you through an SMS; text the name of the fish to the number 079-499-8795 and you will soon get a response telling you to tuck in, think twice or avoid completely!
So even if all seafood is not equal, by using SASSI to put your money where your environmental conscience is, things are definitely looking up for our marine resources.

For more information about SASSI, visit the website at www.wwf.org.za/sassi or, email SASSI at sassi@wwf.org.za.




Introduction to Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Management Training Course held at De Hoop

Delegates at the MPA training course

As part of the on-going commitment towards capacity development of our MPA personnel, DEA: Oceans & Coasts and the WWF Honda Marine Parks Programme partnered to roll out a five day introductory course in MPA Management. The training course was held from 6-10 May at the Potberg Education Centre within the De Hoop Marine Protected Area and attracted 20 attendees from the Northern Cape, CapeNature and South African National Parks.

Dr Peter Fielding and Mr Lawrence Sisitka led the five day contact session which also included a tough written assessment. What made this course particularly successful was the fairly wide range in age, skills, education, and experience and this encouraged dialogue between the attendees from the different MPAs. Group work further encouraged the building of relationships and networks between different management agencies, and between management agencies and community groups.

Attendees on a brief field trip to check out the rocky and sandy ecosystems at work

Guest presentations were made by Mr Siyabonga Dlulisa, from the Oceans and Coasts Directorate of the DEA, with responsibility for MPAs, who gave an overview of the department’s strategy for MPAs in South Africa, and Mr Pete Chadwick, Manager, Integrated Ocean Management: WWF-SA, who gave a superbly illustrated presentation on the state of MPAs around our coastline.  Both presentations were well received, despite some contentious issues raised by the former, and some sobering facts shared by the latter. Lawrence Sisitka also presented an overview of the WIO-COMPAS MPA Professional Certification Programme, and several course participants were clearly interested in certification.

To break the monotony of the classroom, a field trip to the rocky and sandy beach coastline of the MPA was arranged and this coincided with a spring low tide. This helped to put the theoretical knowledge gained into practical understanding and interesting background and contextual input was provided by Peter Chadwick (past Reserve manager) and information on the functioning of rocky and sandy shore ecosystems was provided by a local marine guide Dalfrenzo Laing (who had been included in the course as a participant) and the project executant.

Attendees found the course to be of great benefit to their overall MPA education

The training course will hopefully be offered at other venues and by other management authorities in the near future. There is clearly a need and demand for further roll-out of this course, and perhaps an extended version of it.  The MPA training course provides a valuable stepping stone to the WIO-COMPAS certification and a career in MPA management.


South Africa makes marine conservation history by declaring Prince Edward Islands MPA

McNish Bay on the south coast of Prince Edward Island, typifies much of the steep, rugged nature of the islands' coasts. Image by Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute UCT

WWF South Africa (WWF-SA) is elated over Minister Edna Molewa’s recent formal gazetting of the declaration of the Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) – South Africa’s and the continent’s first offshore MPA. The Islands, which consist of Prince Edward and Marion Islands, are located almost 2,000 kilometres south of South Africa in the Southern Ocean. They form an important global biodiversity hotspot, which was subject to rampant poaching during the late 1990s. At 180,000km2, approximately the combined size of the Free State Province, Lesotho and Swaziland, this MPA is one of the world’s largest.

Dr Morné du Plessis, WWF-SA’s Chief Executive Officer says, “This is a historic day for marine conservation in South Africa. This declaration demonstrates the country’s new commitment to protecting the Prince Edward Islands – an important national heritage and a crown jewel of our oceans. WWF-SA praises the Minister for her visionary leadership and commitment to securing our marine biodiversity for future generations.”

The declaration follows a long and very successful collaboration between WWF-SA and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). It comes almost seven years after South Africa’s then Minister of Environmental Affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, initially announced his intention to declare the MPA.

WWF has worked closely with the DEA to complete a thorough planning and stakeholder consultation process. Plans developed included a legal analysis, spatial conservation plan and a draft management plan. Financing for much of this planning process was obtained from the private sector.

Wandering Albatrosses on the west coast of Prince Edward Island. The islands support some 40% of the world population of this species. Image by Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute UCT

The marine biodiversity of the Prince Edward Islands is of global importance. The Islands are home to a suite of spectacular marine wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins, killer whales and Patagonian toothfish stocks. Unfortunately this wildlife has been threatened by illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in the past, resulting in significant economic and ecological losses to South Africa.

Speaking from WWF’s global headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International, says, “It is inspiring to see such environmental leadership in South Africa, and I applaud Minister Molewa for her vision. Still too little of the world’s precious oceans are protected from exploitation, and this is a landmark victory for marine conservation – and hopefully a sign of more to come.”

“Protection of the Prince Edward Islands is a significant contribution to the conservation of global biodiversity and the fragile Southern Oceans, in particular. The WWF network remains committed to supporting the South African government in ensuring the adequate protection of this area for now and for future generations,” concludes du Plessis.

*The declaration of the Prince Edward Islands MPA can be found here: http://www.info.gov.za/view/DownloadFileAction?id=187611