Oceana accused of fishing in protected area

A photograph of the vessels in the bay was widely circulated last week.

The ire of the Hangberg fishing community has been raised after boats fishing on behalf of fishing company the Oceana Group were spotted in Hout Bay’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) last week.

The community’s traditional area was demarcated into an MPA, a closed area and a no-take zone, in 2004. The area is between the Sentinel and Hout Bay and Oudekraal.

Fishers authorised to fish for snoek may do so in the Karbonkelberg restricted zone, provided that the fishing of snoek takes place at depths in excess of 35m.

The Sentinel received several complaints from residents that five Oceana vessels had been seen fishing in the MPA on Tuesday June 12.

However, the Oceana Group has denied any wrongdoing.

“We have investigated the matter regarding our fishing activity in the Hout Bay area and confirmed that our vessels were operating in a permitted fishing area.

“In light of our sustainable and responsible fishing practices, we reported this incident to the relevant authorities and await their feedback,” the company said this week.

Oceana uses vessels rigged with purse seine nets, which are used to catch pelagic (being neither close to the bottom nor near the shore) species such as pilchard and anchovy, which Oceana uses in its fishmeal operations.

A liaison in the fishing community maintained it was clear that the boats were fishing in the MPA.

“They were well inside, but I am not at all surprised by Oceana’s response. In my view, they will feel they are within their powers because they can pay for lawyers and the fishers in the community cannot afford to go to court to challenge them,” he said.

He said “seven or eight” years ago a private fishing vessel had been caught fishing in the same area, and its owner fined R100 000.

He said it appeared there was “another set of rules” for the big commercial fishing companies.

“Yet if I go and take 20 limpets they would put me in jail,” he said.

Another veteran fisher said when he first saw the boats last week he thought crew members were cleaning their nets.

“I was shocked when I saw they were fishing. Even back in the 1970s, boats had to fish outside the bay. But if these boats can trawl there now, then people must be allowed to catch crayfish or whatever they want. It’s unfair otherwise,” he said.

However, he said the community was no longer surprised by what was permitted when it came to the big fishing companies.

“They can come and do what they want. The policy hasn’t been changed, but they do what they want anyway.”

Sowman and Jackie Sunde, of the department of environmental and geographical science at UCT, published a research paper in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management.

Ms Sunde pointed the Sentinel to the paper, “Social impacts of marine protected areas in South Africa on coastal fishing communities”, which looks at five MPAs around South Africa, including the Karbonkelberg reserve.

“The Karbonkelberg reserve, established in 1934 to protect
West Coast rock lobster (WCRL), lies adjacent to the traditional Hangberg fishing community in Hout Bay. In 1950, Hout Bay was zoned as a white area under the Group Areas Act, while the land above the Hout Bay harbour was zoned for coloured residents.

“This community became known as Hangberg, and is where many of the traditional fishers continue to live today.

“In 2004, the Karbonkelberg reserve was incorporated into the Table Mountain National Park-MPA as a ‘no-take’ MPA without recognition of the traditional fishers’ customary use rights that have evolved from the 19th century. From about the 1930s, the shift towards greater state control over marine resources and the growth of the export-led lobster fishing industry, led to further restrictions on access to WCRL for traditional fishers.”

The authors explain that local fishers mostly use “basic gear” such as row-boats and ring-nets and cannot easily access fishing ground outside the reserve.

The restrictions meant that many fishers fished “illegally” to supply food and a basic income.

Queries sent to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on Tuesday were not responded to at the time this edition went to print.