In 2007, the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Rejoice Mabhudafasi tried to sneak recreational and subsistence fishing into South Africa's oldest marine protected area, the Tsitsikamma MPA. However, once the media exposed her attempt to further threaten an important nursery for line fish stocks, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, was forced to abandon the idea. The media expose unleashed an avalanche of adverse opinion from WWF, the department's own scientists and academia that showed how ill-advised such a decision would be - whether from a biological or socio-economic perspective.
However, various sources now confirm that Mabhudafsi - still the deputy minister of environmental affairs - is attempting a second covert attempt to get "recreational" and "subsistence" fishers access to the Tsitsikamma MPA.
In 2007, the nub of the argument against opening up the MPA to fishing was based on a report by WWF which was accepted by the Department of Environmental Affairs. This report essentially stated that according to research conducted by the WWF, the total economic value of the MPAs along the Garden Route is estimated at R421-million. Opening up parts of Tsitsikamma would result in an overall net estimated loss of R31-million. Relaxing protection would result in a 16% decrease in visitors, which translates to a direct economic loss of R4,7-million a year. But the value of fish extracted from previously closed areas was likely to yield a once-off value of only R4-million, before fish stocks were degraded to levels outside the park. The WWF report confirmed that the benefits of fishing would also be extremely short-lived, and it is estimated that the natural capital built up in these areas would be fished down in approximately 33 fishing days.
In other words, Mabudhafasi was prepared to destroy the biological benefits of having a protected area and which have been reaped over a period of more than 5 decades for 33 days of populism. And what did she have planned for the local communities that denuded an MPA after the 33 days of benefit? Open another MPA? Make more destructive, populist and pointless promises?
And let us not forget that fisheries management is the prerogative of the Department of Fisheries - not Environmental Affairs. So Mabhudafasi cannot lawfully allocate fishing rights. More importantly, the fish under protection in the MPA are line fish stocks that were declared to be in a state of environmental crisis in 2000 with most stocks at below 5% of historical biological pristine levels.