Picture: Tim Reddell
Picture: Tim Reddell

South Africa’s stocks of wild fish are declining in line with overall world trends, according to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The department on Thursday released its 2012 status report on South African fishing, which it has been publishing every year for the past 20 years.

However, the department’s spokesman, Lionel Adendorf, said it was unknown if the European Union, one of the biggest importers of South African fish, would use this report to determine if South African marine resources were at a sustainable level.

He also said there was no news on when the fisheries research vessel, the SAS Africana, would return to sea after having experienced engine trouble during her research cruise last month.

Mr Adendorf said the report only gives an update on the state of the different species of fish and does not quantify the total catch expected for the year.

The South African fisheries sector is worth about R6bn a year and directly employs, in the commercial sector, about 27,000 people. The report said abalone stocks were in a heavily depleted state and continued to decline due to increasing levels of poaching, along with ecological factors.

It said the state of linefish ranged from heavily depleted to optimal depending on species. However, there were signs of a positive response of some species to the emergency management measures implemented in 2000.

West coast rock lobster were showing signs of recovery under the current operational management procedure. Deep-water hake remained depleted, but the status of this resource was improving, whereas shallow-water hake was considered optimal to abundant, the report said.

The report also said implementation of precautionary management approaches in recent years had resulted in a faster than expected recovery of deep-water hake. Harders, the main target of the beach-seine and gillnet fisheries, remained in a depleted to heavily depleted state.

"Environmental anomalies and illegal netting have impacted on the recruitment of the species in recent years," the report said.

The abundance of Agulhas sole had remained relatively constant over the past 15 years. Cape horse mackerel had increased in recent years and stock was considered to be in an optimal state. The status of Patagonian toothfish remained unknown, though some data suggest that this resource was depleted and may be declining. The total allowable catch for 2011-12 had been reduced 20%.

Anchovy stock was at its lowest level observed in the past 15 years, but sardine and round herring stocks continued to increase.

There has been a delay in announcing total allowable catch quotas for a number of species.

The west coast rock lobster total allowable catch quota was left unchanged by Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, despite advice that it should be reduced and is now subject to a high court application by an environmental group.

Democratic Alliance deputy agriculture spokesman Pieter van Dalen said while he had not seen the report, he wondered about its veracity. "Our crayfish stocks are only at 3% of pristine and Ms Joemat-Pettersson had promised to reduce the total allowable catch by 7.5% over the next five years to bring them up to that level ."

In March, Ms Joemat-Pettersson moved the management of South Africa’s seven-vessel fishing survey and protection fleet from contractor Smit Amandla Marine to the South African Navy.