THE volunteer marine conservation programme in the Kenton and Bushman’s area has been discontinued due to “excessive” bureaucratic requirements by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The programme was initiated about two years ago under the guidance of the Port Alfred Fisheries Office. It became known as the Honorary Marine Conservation Officer (HMCO) programme.
The Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA) and the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) makes provision for honorary marine conservation officers to act as eyes and ears of Marine Coastal Management along the coast.
They are voluntary inspectors and have powers to enforce the MLRA. This honorary programme encourages members of the public to participate in marine conservation and promote responsible fishing.
It is purely voluntary and unpaid.
Fourteen HMCOs patrolled the rivers and beaches throughout the year, encouraging responsible fishing and discouraging illegal activities in the estuary, such as overexploitation of our mud banks.
The team consisted of people who are highly qualified in their relevant fields and have an outstanding track record as lawyers, doctors and senior managers of business.
Written reports were submitted after each patrol and circulated to all team members and the Fisheries Office in Port Alfred for further action where applicable.
The members were all residents from Kenton, Bushman’s and Ekuphumleni: Anton Vosloo, Bill Northrop, Daphne McNeil, George Poole, Gerald Schmidt, Graham Treagus, Hendrik Dieckmann, John Crandon, Keith Wilmot, Robert Wallis, Roger Carthew, Siyanda Ngqina, Ted Gilfillan and Philippa Tinley.
Initially, all volunteers went through the application process, including police clearance and a general induction regarding their role and responsibility. Since its inception in Kenton and Bushman’s, they have made a major impact and were welcomed by residents and visitors of the area.
However, since January the role of the HMCOs was significantly changed so that it could no longer be considered the volunteer programme as initially introduced by the Department of Environmental affairs and Tourism.
The Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, who took over responsibility for the programme, issued a directive which made it mandatory for all HMCOs, among others, to:
· Re-apply for the position; agree to a screening process undertaken by the SAPS, including fingerprint identification.
· A minimum of 32 hours per month of active duty monitored through a time capturing system and report data to the Fisheries Office.
· Only conduct patrols in the presence of a fishery control officer.
· Participate in training courses such as fish identification, firearm training, first aid and computer literacy courses.
Furthermore a rank structure was to be introduced, based among others, on qualifications, knowledge and leadership experience.
The above points seemed excessive for a volunteer organisation whose sole interest was in the preservation of our marine resources.
A number of meetings with representatives of the department were arranged, to find an amicable interim solution, but unfortunately only one meeting could be held with representatives from the Port Elizabeth regional office. No progress was made thereafter.
Subsequently the team was informed that patrols could no longer be undertaken as no one had been issued with a valid HMCO identity card.
Volunteers in other areas, particularly along the Swartkops, who also had a highly successful group, faced similar issues.
The conservation of our estuaries and rivers are very close to our heart and deputy director of Ndlambe’s community protection services directorate, Fanie Fouche, was approached via Willem Nel, the newly appointed Ndlambe river control officer to revitalise the honorary nature officer programme which worked so successfully under his guidance.
The team is anxiously waiting for a reply from him.