Marine scientists from across the globe have joined together to submit a court order to stop government from destroying the precious West Coast rock lobster species and causing an ecological disaster.
The World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature court bid to save the West Coast rock lobster from extinction has united a collection of international scientists against the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Recent evidence and affidavits submitted to the Western Cape High Court has brought to light the deliberate disregard on the part of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, of advice given by scientist to support the need to reduce the harvest of rock lobster.
Financial discrepancies within the Department have led to rock lobsters not receiving the stock assessments and evaluations needed to monitor the population, and neither have other fish species such as sardines and hake.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana and suspended deputy director-general for fisheries, Siphokazi Ndudane, were previously accused of being involved in an alleged abalone corruption scandal. Both men were also accused of manipulating fish quotas to favor certain interest groups at the expense of proper departmental management.
The West Coast rock lobster is known as “kreef” or “crayfish”, and is considered a valuable export as well as a vital source of income for coastal communities that survive largely on the poaching of these lobsters.
An absence in formal quotas has been identified as a main reason for the species decline.
Currently, the government is finalising community quotas to address poaching, but communities feel it may be too little too late to save the species or recover the income it creates for the community.
On top of the community implications, the species plays an invaluable role as a scavenger within the ecosystem. It also provides food for many other species including the bank cormorant, which is another species on the decline. Scientists fear that once the species no longer exists there will be a huge negative ecological ripple effect.
The WWF wants the court to force fisheries to return to setting catch limits based on science. It said its evidence raised “very serious and disturbing questions about the integrity and consistency of decision-making” within the department.
WWF South Africa CEO, Morne du Plessis, said that the court challenge was a last resort in an effort to save the species.