(Originally published in the September 2019 issue of SKI-BOAT)
By Bruce Mann, Senior scientist, Oceanographic Research Institute, Durban
ON 23 May 2019 South Africa declared 20 new or extended marine protected areas (MPAs) in the South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This brought spatial protection up from 0.4% to 5% of the EEZ and, while still short of the 10% recommended by the Convention for Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11 for 2020, it represents a substantial step forward for marine conservation in South Africa.
Of the 20 new MPAs, nine include shelf habitats on or near to the coast that will directly affect ski-boat anglers. These include iSimangaliso, uThukela, Aliwal, Protea, Amathole, Addo, Agulhas Banks, Robben Island and Namaqua.
Past research in South Africa and elsewhere has shown that large, well enforced, no-take MPAs that include good reef habitat, allow resident reef fish to increase in abundance and size over time.
They also protect healthier, fitter and more fecund fish and facilitate spillover into adjacent fished areas. This is extremely important, especially in the face of climate change, as it allows reef fish populations to have greater resilience and the ability to adapt.
Research in South African MPAs has proved that catches next to an MPA are better, because of spillover. Assuming that the new MPAs can be enforced and that they are respected by ski-boat anglers, they will provide significant protection for targeted linefish species, especially resident, slow-growing and overexploited species.
However, many ski-boat anglers have expressed dismay at the declaration of the new MPAs as they feel that their favourite sport or pastime is being restricted. Let’s have a look at the new MPAs to better understand what they mean for ski-boat angling.
To start off with, we need to understand that virtually all our larger MPAs are zoned for multiple forms of use. Most of the MPAs are zoned separately for inshore (shore-based) and offshore (boat-based) activities. The strange shape of our MPAs is because, where possible, the boundaries were set using lines of latitude or longitude which enables more effective law enforcement. There are three types of zones that affect ski-boat anglers namely a Restricted Zone (a no-take or no fishing zone), a Controlled Pelagic Zone (a zone where pelagic gamefishing is allowed but no bottomfishing), and a Controlled Zone (where both game- and bottomfishing is allowed).
Many stakeholder meetings were held prior to the declaration of the MPAs and ample opportunity was given to stakeholders to submit their comments on the draft MPAs before they were declared. This has enabled many of the legitimate concerns of anglers to be incorporated into the design of the MPAs.
For example, although the iSimangaliso MPA has been increased significantly in size (now SA’s largest MPA), the extension has had relatively little effect on ski-boat anglers as two large Controlled Pelagic Zones (extending approximately 20-40km offshore in the north and 40-60km offshore in the south) are still available for anglers to fish in from the main launch sites at Sodwana, Cape Vidal, St Lucia and Mapelane.
PROTECTION FROM VERY DESTRUCTIVE ACTIVITIES
Some anglers have asked me what the point is of having a Controlled Zone in an MPA if both game- and bottomfishing is allowed. The important point here is that even if recreational fishing is allowed, other activities such as mining, dumping of pollution and in some cases commercial or industrial fishing are prohibited in the MPA. This means that the marine environment within the MPAs is protected from these very destructive activities.
Another aspect that has caused a lot of dissention is the ban on boat-based night fishing in many of our MPAs.
These closures provide greater protection to nocturnally active species such as geelbek and dusky kob which aggregate at night, during which time they are caught in large numbers. Both of these species have sadly been fished down to very low levels and these restrictions are essential if we hope to keep these fisheries going.
I would suggest that every ski-boat angler get a copy of the relevant government gazette declarations of the MPAs in your area and study them carefully so that you understand where you can and cannot fish (see links below). Hopefully, in time, maps will be made available which can be installed on your boats’ GPS to make this much simpler.
The first reaction by many ski-boat anglers is that the new MPAs are all well and good, but how are “they” going to enforce them? As ski-boat anglers I think that most of us are well aware of the poor state of many of our prime angling fishes; there are simply not as many as there used to be. Similarly, we also know about the lack of capacity in both our national and provincial environmental management agencies.
The bottom line is that unless we as anglers take on custodianship of the new MPAs and adopt a responsible attitude, which includes self-policing, the new MPAs will not have the desired effect and will simply become “paper parks”.
The new MPAs are there to help our linefish stocks recover so that ultimately there will be enough fish for all of us and our future generations. It really is up to us to make them work!
If you would like to know more about our MPAs, have a look at <www.marineprotectedareas.org.za>.
The maps and regulations are available on www.saambr.org.za/marine-protected-areas-mpas/. On facebook, Marine Protected Areas SA has information about our MPAs and more information on linefish can be found at EduOceans-Fun Fishy Facts. I have also appeared in a YouTube video giving specific details of the KZN MPAs <www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTHWE4HkqdY&t=311s>.