The lack of credible deterrence mechanisms against poaching is devastating to both the well being of communities and the sustainability of the resource.
Poaching has made a few people very wealthy, but the distribution of abalone (perlemoen) money through the community has had a destructive effect. It takes children out of schools and gangs use abalone smuggling to fund and facilitate drug trafficking.
Abalone poaching has become an organised industry turning millions each year. Transnational crime syndicates commanding the industry on the trade routes to East Asia link up with local gangs who control shoreline activity.
The binge of illegal harvesting by syndicates has brought South Africa’s stock of wild abalone to the brink of extinction.
Ultimately, abalone can only survive if it is kept in the water. Without the support of affected communities which could promote a culture of self-regulation against poaching, this is unlikely to happen.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) recommends the following steps to prevent further destruction of poor communities and to replenish the stock of valuable abalone on our shoreline:
- Reverse the Department’s incentive to wait for abalone to be poached before intervening. The Department of Fisheries relies on the sale of confiscated abalone to fund a substantial part of its operational budget. It thus has a financial interest to ensure that large scale poaching continues so that the product can then be confiscated and sold for a profit.
- Re-institute Operation Trident with appropriate institutional support such as the Green Courts. Operation Trident replaced Operation Neptune in 2004. It was a three-pronged initiative that focused on intelligence gathering and collapsing of syndicates, the establishment of green courts to ensure high prosecution rates and jail times and on-the-ground enforcement with the deployment of an additional 70 South African Police Service (SAPS) officers to the Overberg, in addition to dedicated Overstrand Conservation official and a 24 hour call centre to report poaching. At least part of the battle against abalone poaching is to convince the illicit industry that the costs are simply too high.
- Create incentive structures to secure community policing to exterminate the demand side. This is obviously the most challenging aspect of eradicating abalone poaching. Gangs have deeper pockets than many households in abalone-concentrated communities and sell products (such as tik) which are attractive escape mechanisms for people whose lives are characterised by deprivation. Gang activity has shattered the social fabric of these communities. Rebuilding social capital is necessary to overcome the narrow interests of gangs.
- Reverse the rapid collapse of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The growing institutional failures and collapse of governance at the department is a direct contributing factor to uncontrolled poaching. South African waters remain completely open to vast and unchecked, illegal, unregulated and unplanned fishing as our R 1 billion fleet of patrol vessels continue to lie idle in Simons Town Harbour.
Until these steps are implemented, our marine resources will continue to be stripped.
The current apathy is tantamount to condoning poaching.
This is indicative of a department whose legacy will be characterized more by poaching than by prudence.