Poaching has become so commonplace that images of the 48 abalone poachers caught red-handed in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park recently, are no longer having an impact.
The R1,8 million bust is just another example that the sentences handed down are actually ineffective in deterring poaching. One reason given is that crime syndicates are using underage young men to poach the abalone in order to evade prosecution. The high unemployment rate has exacerbated the problem as often this is the only means of putting food on the table.
Last year more than 400 suspects were arrested for the crime and at least R130 million worth of abalone, both dry and wet, was confiscated.
It’s not just a coastal problem. In the first week of February police busted a suspected abalone-smuggling syndicate in Limpopo, arresting three people and seizing abalone with an estimated value of R7m.
The bust was made in Polokwane on Friday night in a joint intelligence-driven operation conducted by the Provincial Endangered Species Unit, the Polokwane Crime Intelligence Unit, the Western Cape Provincial Crime Intelligence Unit, the Polokwane K9 Unit and police based at the Polokwane International Airport. The abalone was destined for Zimbabwe border.
Serious priority crime
In December the Western Cape Parliament announced that the South African Police Service would be reclassifying abalone poaching as a serious priority crime classified in terms of Section 16 of the South African Police Service Act, Act 68 of 1995.
The welcome news has been reinforced by the deployment of South African National Defence Force personnel to the Overstrand.
The military deployment is part of the border safeguarding Operation Corona. It involves personnel from the South African Army, SA Air Force, SA Navy and SA Military Health Service. Armoured personnel carriers, naval vessels and an Oryx helicopter from Air Force Base Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron are also being used.
Community Against Abalone Poaching spokesperson Danie Keet commented to the Village News website that while this was a good development in the fight against abalone poaching, the concern is the poachers will return after the operation is complete.
“At the same time, it proves poaching can be policed effectively and the resource can be protected,” said Keet.
Fisheries crime symposium
In March, the FishFORCE Fisheries Crime Law Enforcement Academy at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth will host a symposium on fisheries crime.
Various international and local agencies and organisations, including UNODC, SADEC, INTERPOL, FAO, Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, Benguela Current Commission, senior representatives from Indonesia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya and Seychelles, SAPS, NPA, Hawks, DEFF and Operation Phakisa, will attend.