Overfishing reduces once abundant fish species

ANYONE who takes the least interest will know that our marine resources are under severe pressure and are much depleted. Even those who are not aware of this can merely look at the ever-higher prices we pay for fish to realise that they are becoming scarcer.

As an amateur who has dived and fished from ski-boats, from rock and surf for more than 40 years I can testify from personal experience how once abundant species, for example (to name but a few) poenskop, various red fish, cob, bronze bream, elf, leervis, musselcracker and galjoen, have, to a lesser or greater extent, been depleted in some cases to a pathetic remnant by overfishing and spearing by amateurs and by the commercial line fish sector. These are magnificent creatures which even now provide superb sport to anglers and spearfishermen.

Many of these fish are only found along our coast and many are slow growing, which will retard their ability to recover. Fish stocks worldwide are said to be down to 20% of what they once were.

Scientists go so far as to suggest that our inshore cob and white steenbras are down to something like 2% of the original stock. Bag and size limits introduced in the 1980s have since had to be adjusted dramatically to reduce pressure further.

Some formerly prolific and legendary angling fish, namely red steenbras, seventy-four and dageraad, have been so depleted that they have had to be completely closed to all commercial and amateur exploitation. Now we have the red tide, which has killed many of these already threatened fish, to remind us that in addition to man’s depredations fish stocks are further subject to natural fluctuations which could push them to the brink of extinction or beyond.

It does not take a genius to see that the only immediate answer to the problem must be that the stocks are built up by reduced exploitation by man, which is one important factor over which we do have control. I am aware that pollution may be a problem, but there is hope for a solution only in the very long term.

I can only hope this natural disaster will be a wake-up call to amateurs to curb themselves and limit their catch, exert peer pressure (especially in their clubs), report transgressors, and lobby for greater conservation measures and better enforcement. This if only so that they and their children can continue to enjoy their sport, but more importantly and very idealistically, for the sake of a unique heritage, to develop a strong conservation ethic which will have the added benefit of giving them credibility when tackling, as they must, the greedy and shortsighted commercial sector.

There is an encouraging tendency among especially the younger anglers to catch and release fish, which I hope will spread and give a lie to my pessimism. However having so often seen the greed and cynicism of even affluent and informed amateurs I am not holding my breath.

Pieter le Roux, Uitenhage