WWF-SA casts critical net over government’s West Coast Rock Lobster decision
In setting an unchanged Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the season, the Department has effectively disregarded its own Scientific Working Group recommendations, says John Duncan, WWF-SA’s Manager for Seafood Market Transformation. The working group advised that in order to meet the agreed-upon recovery target for the fishery, the TAC should be reduced by around 9% for the upcoming season.
“The WCRL fishery, which is a critical source of income and livelihoods for many small-scale fishing communities in the Western and Northern Cape, has declined dramatically over the last 50 years as a result of overfishing. Stocks are now estimated to be at critically low levels around 3% of pristine. In recent years, unchecked poaching has led to the further depletion of these stocks and the Department has failed to respond effectively to this threat.”
In recognition of the risks (socio-economic and ecological) posed by such an overfished resource, the Department, along with industry stakeholders, had previously agreed to a recovery target of 35% over the next 10 years (note that this is a recovery of 35% of 3%, which would mean that stocks would effectively recover to around 5% of pristine over 10 years).
Duncan adds, “The failure of the Department to subsequently adopt these recovery targets for the season therefore not only poses a significant risk to the sustainability of the resource and the communities which rely on it, but also undermines the core principles of fisheries co-management.”
“The decision to set the TAC higher than scientific recommendations may also have significant economic implications for the WCRL and broader South African fishing industry as seafood buyers, both local and global, are increasingly making commitments to sourcing only seafood which comes from well-managed, sustainable sources.”
The failure to follow scientific advice in setting TACs will almost certainly raise alarm bells for organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) which will need to take this into account when assessing the Department’s ability to sustainably manage other South African fisheries such as the hake trawl fishery which is currently certified as sustainable by the MSC (an international fishery eco-label).
Duncan explains that, locally, the decision is also likely to impact the fishery’s colour coding on the WWF-SASSI list, which requires fisheries management to be based on scientific advice in order to score well under the management section of the SASSI assessment. Should WCRL move from the WWF-SASSI green list to the orange or even red list, this would have significant impacts on the local market for this fishery, with many restaurants and retailers currently refusing to buy species on the red list.
“It is thus critical that the Department now provides the WCRL stakeholders and broader public with a clear explanation of the reasoning behind their decision,” says Duncan. “WWF-SA believes that effective fisheries management must be predicated on sound processes and accurate science. While ad hoc decisions may help to avoid difficult decisions in the short-term, history has shown that short-sighted fisheries management will only lead to destruction of both the resources and the communities that depend on them.”