SA Fisheries: The Real Facts and Trends

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Despite important progress made over the past 10 years in restoring and improving the state of South Africa’s marine resources, significant challenges remain. According to a new report by WWF-SA, many of South Africa’s inshore marine resources are still considered overexploited or collapsed.

The Real Facts and TrendsTitled WWF Fisheries: Facts and Trends South Africa, the report provides an overview of the status of the local fishing sector and the marine environment in which it operates. In highlighting some of the key areas of concern, the report paints a clear picture of the precarious state in which we find ourselves.
It also emphasizes the importance of WWF-SA’s drive to promote an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF); the state of all marine organisms and interconnected processes are considered when fishing decisions are being made.
Globally, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that approximately 85% of the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or exploited to their maximum. The WWF Fisheries: Facts and Trends South Africa report suggests that we are in a relatively similar position, with almost 50% of our marine resources fully exploited.
A further 15% of marine resources are overexploited, including important commercial species such as West coast rock lobster and Indian Ocean yellow fin tuna populations. Of equal concern is the number of species in which the current stock status is uncertain.

Some of the other key findings include:
• While the offshore marine resources are in a relatively stable state, some of the most popular seafood choices South Africans currently make include species that are classified as collapsed; such as kob/kabeljou and geelbek.
• The status of many of South Africa’s line-fish species is particularly worrying, with almost 70% of the commercial species considered collapsed; less than 10% of their pre-fishing populations.
• Fisheries play a critical role in providing direct and indirect livelihoods for over 140 000 people in South Africa. Fish protein is also a critical protein source for many of the traditional fishing communities along the South African coastline, many of whom are considered food insecure. The successful roll out and implementation of a new small-scale fisheries policy will be critical in ensuring the livelihoods and food security of many of these fishing dependent communities.
• There are a number of positive initiatives underway to improve and restore the state of our marine resources. These include the Marine Stewardship Council’s (an international eco-label) certification of South Africa’s offshore and inshore hake trawl fishery as well as the industry’s efforts to reduce some of the broader environmental impacts such as seabird by-catch and habitat damage.
• Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) play a critical role in supporting our marine ecosystems. South Africa has gazetted 21 coastal MPAs covering approximately 20% of the coastline but as yet, no offshore MPAs have been created. This is a concern as less than 0.4% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone is protected by MPAs. Globally, less than 0.1% of our oceans are formally protected in MPAs, compared to some 10% of our terrestrial ecosystems.

The report also highlights the fact that given the state of many of South Africa’s fisheries resource (in particular those found inshore), it is unlikely that job creation can take place in the short-term without progressive rebuilding strategies. “The immediate goal of fisheries management should be on job security with job creation being a longer-term goal,” the report states.

It is clear that as a nation, South Africa is facing significant challenges with regards to managing our marine resources sustainably. However, we are not alone and many other countries are facing similar challenges.
“Recent studies have shown that effective management and science-based decision making can set the stage for ecological and economic recovery. Responsible consumers and retailers are also playing an increasingly important role in building the momentum for change within the global fishing industry by demanding `greener’ choices,” says Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-SA.

The long-term success of South Africa’s fishing industry and coastal fishing communities is inextricably linked to our ability to implement sustainable solutions to these challenges through responsible and collaborative management. In the past, fisheries were managed under a single species approach, which failed to incorporate the effect of fishing activities on non-target components of marine ecosystems. This strategy has failed us. “Today there is a growing understanding of the need to implement a holistic approach to environmental management if we are to meet man’s growing demands on our marine ecosystem, this is clearly one of the key challenges of the 21st century,” concludes Du Plessis.

Some interesting fish facts:

• R4.4 billion of fish were landed in 2009. This is equivalent to 583 000 tons of fish.
• Commercial fisheries contribute about 0.5% of South Africa’s GDP.
• In the impoverished Eastern Cape region, R500 000 000 in foreign revenue is generated in the squid fishery every year; making it one of the country’s most valuable fisheries. South Africa’s commercial fishing industry employs 43 500 people, including seasonal and permanent employment.

How can you become part of the solution? Consumers can help by buying sustainable seafood. For more information, visit or visit our mobi site or send an email to


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