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Important fishing areas: spatial management in an increasingly crowded ocean

South Africa’s marine environment supports thousands of jobs, contributes billions of rands to the economy, and fishery harvests provide food security to many thousands of South Africans. Our rich biodiversity also draws thousands of tourists to the country, also contributing to the economy. But the pressure is increasing to derive more services and benefits from our oceans. Activities such as fishing, oil and gas drilling, mining, shipping, and recreation as well as conservation of the oceans’ biodiversity all vie for use of the ocean and can sometimes come into conflict. It is hugely important to ensure that spatial planning takes place to minimise conflict between ocean users and to preserve the ability of our oceans to provide us with livelihoods and services for current and future generations.

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) recently provided funding through the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) to Capricorn Marine Environmental and the South African National Biodiversity Institute for a project to determine spatial areas significant to the wellbeing of South Africa’s offshore fisheries. Catch and effort data from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) were collated and mapped and workshops were held with key fishery stakeholders to identify important fishing areas. The report gives the history and context of eight fisheries (Hake Trawl (inshore and offshore), Demersal hake longline, Midwater Trawl, Small pelagic purse seine, Squid jig, Large pelagic (longline and pole & line), South Coast Rock Lobster, and KZN Prawn trawl) and maps the potential conflict between the fishery sectors as well as other marine users.

The report identified several areas of conflict between the different fisheries but also highlighted the growing conflict with other marine industries, especially seismic surveys and seabed mining. The report provides an important baseline for marine spatial planning and sets the scene for the future identification of Priority Fishing Areas (PFAs) and Fishery Management Areas (FMAs). These will be important for ensuring that the food and job security provided by the fishing industry is maintained as well as protecting key biodiversity areas such as nursery areas and spawning habitat.

The RFA will now look to engage with the CER and other key stakeholders to look at how the findings of this study can be taken forward and incorporated into existing legislation.