Swartkops watchdog proposes new protection measures

More than 10,500 online hits as people respond to fresh ideas to preserve Bay estuary

ESTUARY HOTSPOT: The Zwartkops Conservancy is calling for the possible installation of wake-free zones in sensitive parts of the Swartkops Esturary including in salt marshes like the one pictured. The idea is that people will have to cut the speed of their boats as they move through these areas. NMU researchers have shown how these marshes help combat climate change by trapping leaf litter, mud and sticks in the water and thereby inhibiting the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
ESTUARY HOTSPOT: The Zwartkops Conservancy is calling for the possible installation of wake-free zones in sensitive parts of the Swartkops Esturary including in salt marshes like the one pictured. The idea is that people will have to cut the speed of their boats as they move through these areas. NMU researchers have shown how these marshes help combat climate change by trapping leaf litter, mud and sticks in the water and thereby inhibiting the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
Image: Supplied

The Zwartkops Conservancy has called for fresh interventions to save the Swartkops Estuary, where illegal fishing and bait collecting have dramatically increased since the tranquil period over the Covid-19 lockdown.

Conservancy chair  Dale Clayton said on Friday the hard lockdown had provided a welcome respite especially because of the total ban   imposed on fishing and bait collection.

Birdlife had increased because of the lack of disturbance from boats and no-one trampling through adjacent feeding and nesting areas.

However, since June, when regulations were eased, fishing and bait collecting had erupted and were possibly even exceeding pre-lockdown levels, he said.

“There are ongoing concerns that the level of extraction is exceeding long term sustainability given the urban nature of this important ecosystem.”

He said the conservancy’s main objective was to help conserve the estuary for use by future generations.

“In line with this goal, the conservancy is seeking opinions, comments and suggestions on six possible courses of action.”

Clayton said the first idea was to close the estuary to all fishing and bait harvesting during the period when mature fish gathered ready to spawn.

“That would be annually during August, September and October which when pre-spawning aggregations of fish in the shallow lower reaches of the estuary peak.

“This would constitute a closed season that would allow pre-spawning aggregations of especially collapsed populations of dusky kob and spotted grunter to engage in mating unhindered.”

He said the second possibility was to close all the shallow nursery areas such as creeks and seagrass beds all year round to extractive fishing and bait gathering.

“This would include all the creeks — especially Steenbras, Chatty, Modder and Tippers. This measure would protect the fish juveniles from collapsed stocks that use these areas as nursery areas.”

He said the third proposal was to close the upper reaches of the estuary all year round to all forms of fishing and bait gathering from Bar None just above Redhouse to the top end of the tidal zone at Perseverance.

“This is a critically important fish nursery which is often decimated by illegal gill-netters who sell their catch to fish shops.”

The fourth suggestion was to ban fishing and bait harvesting at night through the entire estuary.

“This was implemented on the Breede River in 2013 by the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

“ The Swartkops is overutilised for fishing and bait removal given its urban nature with easy access from multiple points of entry.”

He said the fourth proposal was to enforce the use of circle hooks only.

“As opposed to traditional hooks, these do not easily hook the stomach area of the fish which is a problem as it is almost impossible to remove the hook without seriously injuring or killing the fish.”

The last idea was to introduce wake-free zones in biologically sensitive areas to force motorboat pilots to drastically cut the speed of their vessels.

The zones would be identified with the help of an NMU estuarine ecologist and would include fish nursery, seagrass and salt marsh areas as well as housing precincts where there was already severe bank erosion, he said.

Clayton said the conservancy realised that especially after the economic and jobs devastation of lockdown many people were desperate for food and this accounted for some of the growing pressure on the estuary.

“But we are saying let us preserve the estuary so it remains a sustainable resource.

“If we don’t, there will soon be nothing left.”

The proposals were posted on the conservancy’s Facebook site and by Friday morning 10,548 had read it and 69 had commented.

While many comments were positive, some were cynical about the value of the proposals without the assurance of strong policing.

Others said it would be better to rather simply enforce existing bylaws, which were presently mostly flouted.

Asked about the last point, Clayton said while the suggestion had merit, existing bylaws allowed for fishing 24 hours a day, 365 hours days of the year.

“We’re saying at least have a respite over the sensitive pre-spawning time.”

The conservancy would make the proposals available on several other sites as well and once as much response as possible had been gathered and collated, a decision would be taken on what strategy to push for.

“We could go with all of the proposals, some or just one or two of them. Once we’ve decided we will put the plan to the authorities and try to organise a partnership to help policing.”

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