Following the deaths of two whales which got entangled in fishing gear off of Cape Town, the South African government has temporarily banned exploratory fishing for octopus in False Bay until further studies have been done and ways found to avoid such incidents in future.
The lobbying group AfriOceans called the announcement a victory. “Our efforts have paid off, joy for our whales!” it said in a Facebook post.
For 17 years a controversial practice has been allowed of removing “keystone species” like octopus from the inshore environment in areas the department controls like Table Mountain National Park – “without any environmental risk assessments or stock assessments being available.”
Barbara Creecy, the new Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, said on Friday the suspension was immediate.
“Our decision is taken following widespread public concern regarding recent whale entanglements in the False Bay area which has resulted in the untimely and cruel death of these magnificent creatures.”
Jean Tresfon, a well-known marine conservation photographer who had been vocal about the whale deaths, said before the announcement, “This has got to stop. City of Cape Town now throwing their weight behind the call to suspend this … ‘experimental’ fishery which was only supposed to last five years before the data was analysed and a final decision made.”
In 2014, the Department established an octopus exploratory fishery that is operating in Saldanha, False Bay and Mossel Bay. The programme was meant to accrue scientific knowledge regarding octopus harvesting, with a view to enhancing job creation and economic development in coastal areas.
However, Tresfon called the department’s record on protecting marine life in areas under its control “less than stellar.” The department said it had been working with permit holders and other stakeholders to implement measures to minimize the entanglement of whales in fishing gear.
AfriOceans appealed to all parties to come together (as encouraged by President Ramaphosa) in order “to usher in a new dawn of respect, protection, healing and restoration of False Bay, and the whole of South Africa’s fragile and limited ocean resources.”
Update Sunday 30 June 14h00 – AfriOceans has just reported: “Another whale, believed to be a Southern Right has been located dragging fishing ropes within the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) near Clovelly, in False Bay. NSRI and Whale Disintanglement Network is on the scene. Stay Close and let’s hope for the best and that the whale is successfully freed. 🙏💙”