Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy has temporarily suspended exploratory fishing for octopus in False Bay.
In a statement issued on Friday, the department said the decision came after consultation with operators in the False Bay area.
“Our decision is taken following widespread public concern regarding recent whale entanglements in the False Bay area which has resulted in the untimely and cruel death of these magnificent creatures”, said Creecy in the statement.
During a recent engagement with fisheries stakeholders in Cape Town, the Minister indicated that she is seeking independent scientific advice on practical measures that can help prevent entanglement incidents in the future.
“Since then, the department has engaged with operators and agreed that the suspension will remain until such time as scientists can investigate the matter further and explore possible mitigation measures to reduce entanglements,” the department said in the statement.
In 2014, the department established an octopus exploratory fishery that is operating in Saldanha, False Bay and Mossel Bay. This programme, said the department, aims to gain scientific knowledge regarding octopus harvesting, with a view to enhancing job creation and economic development in coastal areas.
“Meaningful data has been collected between 2014 and 2018, and will continue until 2021 in order to ensure a solid statistical time series of catch and effort data,” said the department.
The department added that once enough data has been collected, it will be analysed and subjected to proper scientific scrutiny and review, after which a recommendation will be made regarding the viability of establishing a new commercial fishery. Such a recommendation will also consider mitigating measures in the operations of octopus fishery.
“During the course of the exploratory fishery for octopus, the department has been working with Permit Holders and other stakeholders to implement measures to minimize the entanglement of whales in fishing gear.
“Many practical suggestions made by various stakeholders have been implemented through the permit conditions for octopus fishery,” said the department.
After special sinking lines with extra weights were introduced in 2017, there were no recorded whale fatalities in 2018.
Currently, discussions have been initiated to investigate the possible use of ‘acoustic release buoys’ or ‘time release buoys’ to minimise the need for vertical lines.
These options still require testing, but offer hope of dramatically reducing or eliminating whale entanglements in octopus fishing gear. Further work still needs to be done to assess commercial viability of these solutions.
Following the Friday meeting, the department said operators will commence removing the gear from False Bay, focusing initially on those areas identified as most sensitive and with the highest number of interactions. – SAnews.gov.za