The Cape Times this morning reports of a significant series of arrests of 19 people, including serving police officers alleged to be involved in the illegal harvesting and trade of wild abalone. It has been reported that the investigations into the syndicate's illegal activities spanned some three years and involved the Department of Fisheries (and its predecessor, MCM) and the South African Police Service.
The arrest of serving police officers will come as little surprise to fishers who have been alleging police and fishery compliance officer complicity in the illegal harvesting of abalone for some time, having cited numerous examples in public and to the department.
While we must recognise the important and invaluable work of the department of fisheries' compliance officers in the specialised unit for this important step forward, we must however caution against complacency. We read of literally dozens of arrests of poachers and syndicate members with little news of any successful prosecutions, substantial jail terms for syndicate leaders and the financial destruction of syndicates. It is - as previous cases have shown - the financial implosion of a syndicate that ultimately leads to a turning of the corner.
For one, we need the return of our specialised green courts, specialised prosecutors and magistrates who understand fisheries and environmental laws and the need to efficiently and effectively deal with each case without the burden of other "priority crimes" such as murder, rape and robbery. And then we need significantly more regular arrests, prosecutions and guilty findings of poaching syndicate members.
But these arrests are an important step forward and we must support DAFF in the successful prosecution of those implicated.