Following a report by an international panel of experts on the experimental closure [PL((CS1] of fishing around some African penguin colonies, South Africa’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy, has announced a 10-year extension of an interim fishing ban placed in September 2022 for the small pelagic fishing industry (sardines and anchovies) around six key penguin colonies.
According to the report, the population of African penguins breeding in South Africa has been declining since 2005 at a rate of approximately 8% per annum and is rapidly approaching a high risk of functional extinction by 2035.
The species, which is endemic to South Africa and Namibia, has decreased from more than a million breeding pairs to just less than 10 000 pairs over the last century. Minister Creecy says the factors contributing to this decline include the degradation of suitable nesting habitats, competition for food, ship traffic and its associated noise and vibrations, and climate change.
SST associate and former acting director of the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lorien Pichegru, says the report found that the interim ban had helped slowing the decrease of penguin populations but also that the estimated cost of the closures to the fishing industry had been overestimated.
“While they are better than no closures at all, those interim closures are not based on the panel’s recommendations. They are very small in area and generally do not include the core foraging area of the penguins.”
Prof Pichegru says the panel recommended that the closures be based on the foraging area and biology of the penguins, instead of the current compromise between the conservation and fishing sectors.
“As the conservation sector, we are engaging with the fisheries in terms of operating around the various colonies to resolve the issue of the closures. We are hoping for a positive outcome by the end of the year so we can have biologically meaningful closures for penguins,” she says.
The 10-year closures will be reviewed after six years to see whether they are having any significant impact and SST is hopeful that this will be the case, as the blue economy can only sustainably benefit coastal communities where a careful balance between the needs of all – including the conservation, tourism, and commercial fishing sectors – is achieved.