The impact of closing the Islands will have a significant effect on the small Pelagic Fishery and the South African Economy.
To date, it is estimated that the 12 year Island Closure Experiment (ICE) has directly cost the Industry about R25 million per island a year, or in total around R300 million since the study started, because of substantial lost catches around two (alternating closures for twelve years of Robben and Dassen Islands) of the proposed 6 Islands which Sanccob, Birdlife SA, WWF and some scientists from NMU and UCT have suggest should be closed for 10 years. All of these islands have been traditional fishing grounds for the small pelagic fishery from inception and some of them for 70 years. It is estimated that on average about 23,2% of the total anchovy catch and 30,1% of the total sardine catch is taken in the areas proposed to be closed by the consortium.
Even though the industry has lost financially, we have committed to the outcomes of the study as we support the scientific approach that the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment has taken and we continue to support their scientific efforts. However, as it can be seen from results of the Island Closure Stude experiment over the last 12 years, there is no conclusive evidence that fishing around the Islands is a direct cause of the African Penguin population decline.
Habitat destruction and the growth in competing predator populations, have, amongst other factors, been recognised as playing a role in the decline in the penguin population. It is therefore imperative that research is conducted urgently to determine the quantitative importance of these other factors, while recognising the need for caution by maintaining the present ‘50% closure island closure situation’ consistent with the continuation of the island closure experiment.
The Industry employs more than 5 000 people in addition to seasonal workers, and about 54% of these employees are women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. This large workforce is mainly in areas outside of the major metropolitan centres such as the West Coast and Gansbaai. Roughly 7 indirect jobs per direct job are created by the Industry, including suppliers and other industries that service the fishery, and 7 induced jobs per direct job, amounting to about 80 000 extra jobs. Losses in jobs per million rand of turnover lost is estimated to be 10,7 jobs. The local economy in these fishing communities will see a direct effect through the loss of employment in direct jobs, indirect jobs and induced jobs.
The Small Pelagic Industry generates sales revenue of about R5.5 billion annually and is a major contributor to food security through direct human consumption of canned fish and indirect human consumption of bait, fishmeal and oil. The Small Pelagic Industry is the second most valuable fishery in terms of its contribution to South Africa’s economy.
Canned pilchards are an important part of the National School Nutrition Programme and many of the companies have a contract with various school feeding schemes.
It is estimated that at least 800 000 cans of canned pilchards are consumed daily providing 3,2 million meals. To put this in perspective, 25 000 tons of pilchards that are canned, will provide 400 000 meals per day.
The permanent closure of the Islands in the traditional fishing grounds of the pelagic industry will have a significant socio- economic impact on these coastal communities where people are employed, and there will be an impact on the local economy and the already struggling South African economy, especially in these difficult times resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The workforce will not only lose out on their direct employment but many businesses in the Small Pelagic Industry provide community support, such as contributions to schools, libraries, clinics and local feeding schemes, to name just a few of the support structures the industry provides to the communities. The local community support will also be affected by such a closure.
SAPFIA reaffirms our concern regarding the African Penguin decline and we remain committed to quality science that informs decisions where DFFE managers, the DDG and ultimately Minister Barbara Creecy need to make difficult decisions to carefully consider the trade-off between a possible very small benefit to the Penguins as opposed to major job losses and loss to the South African economy.
SAPFIA wishes to express its disappointment that Sanccob, Birdlife SA, WWF and some scientists at Nelson Mandela University and the University of Cape Town are apparently basing their recommendation to close fishing around six Penguin breeding sites on work, which a December 2020 international review panel found was flawed.
It is very important to note that the analyses arising from the 12 year Island Closure Experiment around Dassen Island, Robben Island, St Croix and Bird Island show, that closing fishing around the islands will have at best a negligible beneficial effect to the penguins, but more importantly will hardly make any difference to the decline in the penguin population.
SAPFIA advocates that DFFE urgently evaluate what other factors are causing the decline and to put action plans in place where possible to mitigate the risk of the African Penguin decline even further.