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Address by Minister Barbara Creecy, MP, during the Expert Panel Review of South Africa’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks

The Avenue, Two Oceans Aquarium, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, Western Cape Province, 17 November 2020

Mr Albi Modise – Programme Director
Mrs Sue Middleton - The Acting Deputy Director General of the Fisheries Management Branch 
Ms Judy Beaumont - The Deputy Director General of the Oceans and Coast Branch
Dr Sven Kerwath, the Chairperson of the Expert Panel
Members of the Expert Panel
Shark cage diving and Eco-Tourism operators,
Representatives of NGOs and Conservation agencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to present the panels’ findings and recommendations, in recognition of World Fisheries Day.

This day is significant because it serves as an annual reminder of how South Africa is blessed with a wide variety of fisheries resources, but also that we have to sustainably manage and adequately protect the ecosystems that harbour these finite resources.

It is therefore appropriate that today we launch the report from our expert panel led by Dr Sven Kerwath of the Fisheries Branch of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to review South Africa’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.

This review was prompted by a number of concerns in the public domain over the management of these iconic ocean creatures.

The first has been the disappearance of Great White sharks from our seas in recent times. This has had a devastating impact on the shark diving industry and caused immense disappointment to the hundreds of tourists who visit our shores to see this great predator.

The second issue has been increased conflict between those involved in consumptive and non- consumptive use of sharks. High profile negative media coverage of this conflict has resulted in negative outcomes for both fishers and tourism operators.

Fishers are also concerned that the latest assessments on two of our demersal shark species, the smooth hound and the soupfin shark indicate current use is unsustainable.

Concern has also been expressed over the management and protection of sharks with widespread reports of illegal, unreported and unregulated shark fishing that poses a long term risk to biodiversity, species survival and the sustainability of law abiding fishers.

Our country, ladies and gentlemen, is blessed with some of the most diverse and richest cartilaginous fish in the world.  In fact when it comes to a variety of 188 species of sharks, rays and chimeras, South Africa ranks among the top five nations. Of these around 30% are considered endemic – and therefore only around our shores.

In fact, I am told that since the National Plan of Action (NPOA) was initiated in 2013, at least six new species have been discovered and the discovery of even more species is expected, aided by our efforts to explore and monitor our ocean biodiversity.

Globally, information on population status and impact of fisheries on sharks is sparse, as sharks are mostly caught as bycatch and the management and conservation of sharks is hindered by a lack of data. Here in South Africa, we know that fourteen percent of our sharks are endangered or critically endangered.

One species, the sawfish, has not been seen in our waters since 1999. Their disappearance can be ascribed to a combination of illegal gillnetting and degradation of their estuarine habitat. Sadly, protection for this species came into effect after the last one was caught.

The loss of this iconic species from our waters should serve as a lesson to us of what could happen to others if we don’t take ownership of our biodiversity.

Shark fishing in some form or other is a long tradition in South Africa – with over a 100 years of shark fishing in Western Cape fishing villages. Sharks have long represented a valuable source of income for these communities. Across our fisheries around 99 species of shark, rays and chimaeras are caught. Of those only around 20 species, are landed in considerable quantities of over 10 metric tonnes per year or more.

The impact of fishing on the ocean’s biodiversity is undeniable and sharks are no exception. Many shark species produce few, live young and cannot withstand unregulated fishing pressure.

Fishing is but one anthropogenic impact on sharks. Plastic pollution in our oceans, a change in climate and the resulting ocean acidification in combination with the depletion of prey species present some of the formidable challenges to the sustainable management of sharks.

South Africa is a signatory of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Committee on Fisheries’ Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The FAO’s Committee on Fisheries is an important forum where countries are able to discuss the management of their fisheries stocks, and where global agreements and non-binding instruments governing fisheries are negotiated. In line with the principles of the Code of Conduct, in 1998 the Committee developed the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA), which aims to ensure the management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use.

To achieve these goals, states are encouraged to adopt and implement a national plan of action for conservation and management of shark stocks. In line with the objectives of the IPOA, the South African National Plan of Action for sharks (NPOA-Sharks), published in 2013 identifies actions that ought to be taken to improve conservation and management of sharks related to South African Fisheries.

The NPOA-Sharks recognises the need to determine and implement harvesting strategies consistent with the principles of biological sustainability, attained through scientifically based management, and consistent with a precautionary approach.

Furthermore, it strives to identify and direct attention, in particular, to vulnerable or threatened sharks to minimise by-catch capture of sharks and to contribute to the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function.

The NPOA-Sharks recognises the potential of non-consumptive use of sharks through ecotourism activities. These aspects of utilisation need to be explored so as to find an optimum balance between consumptive and non-consumptive use, maximising benefits with low impact on the marine ecosystem.

The Biodiversity Management Plan for Sharks, published in 2015 establishes actions to improve the conservation status of sharks beyond fishing impacts, giving effect to international and regional conservation initiatives.

The 2018 internal review of the NPOA indicated good progress in classification and assessment of sharks, but less progress in monitoring populations and in the development of overarching regulatory frameworks. Our external panels agreed with the findings of this internal assessment.

However the panel of experts expressed some concern on the slow progress on the actions around data gathering and reporting, development of regulatory tools and implementation of recommendations for sustainable management.

There is also consensus that the plan was overly ambitious considering the limited human and financial resources available for implementation. The experts agreed that the plan needed more clarity on actions, prioritisation and measurable indicators.

Accordingly, the experts provided us with five specific recommendations for immediate implementation

  1. The first area for action is effective communication and coordination from scientific evidence and advice to policy and management action. So the panel urges timeous feedback amongst units within the Department, a significant shortening of the lag time between scientific advice and management action, and the transparent and rapid communication with stakeholders.
  2. The second area attention is the development of measurable indicators to track the progress and completion of actions. These should include timelines and quantities, for example the number of species assessments completed or the percentage of observer coverage achieved.
  3. Thirdly the panel recommended that the ecosystem effects of fishing and spatial conservation and management measures need to be adequately covered in the plan. Emerging science demonstrates that local or regional area-based management can have positive impacts for shark populations, and can reduce conflict between user groups. This calls for better coordination, communication and a framework for identifying and reducing conflict.
  4. The fourth area for stronger focus is on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and improved monitoring, surveillance and enforcement of compliance. The increased use of illegal gillnets along the coast is an emerging threat. Monitoring, reducing and optimising shark bycatch in commercial fisheries, should be a high priority. Increased effort is needed to better monitor and manage recreational fisheries, which are currently not monitored and inadequately regulated.
  5. The fifth area for attention is the use of technology to improve monitoring and evaluation of management actions and compliance with permit conditions. For example, electronic monitoring programs such as camera-based scientific observer schemes, state of the art electronic vessel monitoring systems, utilisation of drones for surveillance and compliance and online submission and storage of catch and effort data within modern cloud based data systems

In a recent meeting with the panel and senior officials from our two branches I have endorsed these recommendations and I now challenge our officials to urgently process the report’s findings so we can implement the recommendations. The assignment of responsibilities and time lines in the Department has already started.

Allow me Ladies and gentlemen by way of conclusion to express my sincere thanks to our panel of experts who worked tirelessly over the last three months to provide us all with a comprehensive report on South Africa’s current shark management actions.  The roadmap is clear! Now we must ensure we follow it!

I thank you.


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