The department of environment, forestry and fisheries (DEF) has issued a yellow alert in terms of the West Coast Rock Lobster Contingency Plan.
“A Harmful Algal Bloom (Red Tides) has been building up at Elands Bay, on the West coast of the South and has resulted in several marine species washing on the beach,” said the department’s Zolile Nqayi.
In 1997, along Elands Bay, the largest rock lobster occurred with marine researchers confirming the country losing 2000 tons of rock lobster.
Caused by Red Tides, these lobsters usually move inshore searching for oxygenated water.
Red tides are a dense accumulation of microscopic algae, known to contain toxins and very poisonous to humans.
The department feared for a colossal loss of rock lobsters but was optimistic that notwithstanding the Red Tides that the West Coast Rock Lobster catches were still good. It is a commonly known fact that the fisheries sector has been under strain for years with the government invoking limitations on fisheries – ‘fishing rights.’
Small fishing communities having been feeling the brunt of fishing quotas are expected to be worse off affected by this announcement. It is unclear currently how DEFF was working with fishing communities to handle the ‘red lobster walkout.’
According to Two Oceans Aquarium, SA fisheries declined dramatically in recent years due to slow growth rates of lobsters and illegal fishing activities.
“Today, the commercial fishery harvests less than 2 000 tonnes of rock lobster, contributing about R200 million to the economy every year” it noted. This is down from 4000 tons of lobster per year.
Part of the department’s yellow alert is to discourage beaching and it teamed up with various organs of state including the police and SANDF.
Beaching in marine terms usually refers to a boat or ship grounded deliberately or laid offshore.
Nqayi said that the role-players were preparing for a Situation Red because “beaching has taken place and there is a possibility that there may be beaching in excess of 10 tons at a single or multiple locality in the area.”
DEFF said it was monitoring the situation of Red Tides in St Helena Bay, Elands Bay, Lambert’s Bay and Doring Bay.