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The War Against Unlawful Gill Nets In SA!

IMAGES: Kobus Weideman

Eco-Care Trust recently staged an operation removing unlawful gill nets at Klipvoor Dam in the Borakalalo Game Reserve. The operation was part of a Carte Blanche programme exposing the huge problem of unlawful gill nets in South African freshwater systems.

The problem with gill net fishing throughout Africa is the scale of it. The gill nets that we find in dams and rivers are just too long and too many to be sustainable. Gill nets of more than 150 meters and longer are commonly found in dams and rivers.
Gillnetting is a non-selective way of catching fish, because most of the fish caught in a gill nets result in fish mortality. Fish get stuck by its gills in the net and the damage caused soon results in dead fish.

In terms of Provincial Legislation a permit is required to catch fish in public waters with a net. Furthermore, in terms of the National Environment Management: Biodiversity Act (Act No. 10 of 2004) the selling of fish is a restricted activity and you need a permit to sell fish.
Unlawful gillnetting in South Africa is not subsistence fishing anymore. It is commercial fishing in freshwater systems that cannot sustain such pressures. The fish poachers are mostly illegal immigrants working for syndicates.

We cannot afford to loose what is left of our blue kurper population through illegal gill nets.
Carte Blanche crew filming a gill net removal operation by Eco-Care Trust at Klipvoor Dam.

Anglers are not against feeding hungry people, but then we need to do it on a scientific and sustainable way. We need to select the water systems carefully, and not utilise dams with fish species that are listed as endangered or threatened. Targeting indigenous fish species is not the way to go, especially where there are alien fish species, such as carp, that can be utilised. Many of our dams are over stocked with carp and harvesting the smaller carp will benefit the aquatic system and angling. However, you need to know the size limits and quantity of the resource.

A Borakalalo Ranger pulling gill nets out of the dam.
Rangers of Borakalalo assisting Eco-Care Trust during the recent gill net removal
operation in Borakalalo Game Reserve.

People see dams and don’t realise that these aquatic systems are like game reserves. The difference is that in game reserves you can easily count the game, while in dams you can’t. You can see the rhinos are disappearing, but you don’t see the dwindling numbers of for example the largemouth yellowfish or blue kurper.

We shall only support utilising inland fishing resources if it is done after a scientific study regarding the dam, species to be targeted, methods to be used, quotas, etc. has been done, and proper monitoring and control systems are in place and it is sustainable.

Another bird in the net.

Currently the DAFF is busy drafting the Inland Fisheries Policy which will legalize gillnetting in our inland waters. We are not against utilising our freshwater resources, but it needs to be done within the limits of the resource and not targeting indigenous fish species under threat.

It is also very important to ensure that such fisheries are policed effectively, and not by the netters themselves! Out of experience we know that the Government is not fulfilling its policing functions in this regard. NGO’s and anglers can be used in this regard.

The angling industry is a very big industry and over utilising the fish resource will totally collapse the industry to the detriment of the South African economy.

According to the “Recreational Angling Socio-Economics Report” compiled by Dr Warren Potts from Rhodes University and several other academics last year found that there are approximately 1 327 633 recreational anglers in South Africa with an annual spend of R19 billion and an economic value (contribution to production) of R36 billion. This industry currently supports 94 000 employment opportunities.

Another bale of illegal gill nets removed by a volunteer during one of our operations.

One of the important findings of the Report is that angling has a huge tourism potential but that it is currently not properly exploited. Angling tourism is big money and creates many job opportunities, but without conserving our angling waters there will be no fishing and a huge economic opportunity lost.

Nets full of fish.

Eco-Care Trust is a NGO doing aquatic monitoring in freshwater systems. Taking out unlawful gill nets is one of our focus areas. Eco-Care Trust enjoys large support amongst the angling community who assists by voluntary taking out illegal gill nets.

If illegal gillnetting in South Africa is not taking seriously by the Government soon, many of our freshwater fish species will become extinct and the angling industry will take a huge knock leaving many people unemployed.

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