One of the seemingly insurmountable tasks I have been faced with in order to complete my PhD. research (more on that some other time) was to come up with a figure that reveals the extent of non-compliance towards recreational fisheries regulations. Everyone has their own idea about how many other people do or do not follow the rules, however, nobody at this point knows the true extent of rule breaking when it comes to recreational fisherman (except me..). Before you get angry and assault me for pointing out that recreational fisherman aren't all perfectly behaved while there are massive fishing trawlers which seemingly pillage fish stocks, please note that 1.) I am also a recreational fisherman 2.) There are nearly a million recreational fisherman in South Africa (allowed up to 10 fish per day x365) 3.) Researchers suggest that recreational fisheries, worldwide, consume quantities of fish comparable to that of the catch landed by commercial fisheries and 4.) Commercial fisheries aren't targeting the same species as shore anglers (shad, blacktail, roman, stumpnose, etc.) nor are they concentrating in the same areas. So there are reasons to be concerned if the recreational fisherman aren't playing by the rules.
The rules exist to ensure that fisheries (both commercial and recreational) can co-exist for an infinite period (long-term sustainability). In South Africa, commercial fishers are restricted by seasons, effort (days fished and equipment used), Total allowable catch (TAC) limits, species they are granted a permit for etc. Generally, this fishery receives significant attention by DAFF due to the economic benefits it produces. As a result, enforcement in this fishery is much more noticeable resulting in higher rates of compliance (This does not include Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing (IUU) aka: those Chinese trawlers that appear in and out of our waters). The recreational shore fishery (estuary and coastline) is regulated by the purchase of a permit which requires holders to adhere to size limits (which allow species to reach maturity so they may breed), bag limits (which prevent stocks from being overfished), closed seasons (which afford various species protection during vulnerable life stages), closed areas (such as MPAs which allow an ecosystem to recover from human pressures), prohibited species (which allow vulnerable species to repopulate or basically just not go extinct), tackle restrictions (You are only allowed 10-hooks per line) and the inability to sell your catch (special permits are required for fishing for profit). Breaking these rules undermines the very reason for their existence and threatens the sustainability of the fisheries.
Enforcing these regulations can be an incredibly difficult and costly task. The coastline of SA stretches roughly ~2700km, much of which is only accessible by 4x4 and the recreational fishing population spread widely among characteristically diverse groups. It is easy to see why enforcement in the rec. fishery is not always easily observed (or observed at all). The costs associated with increasing enforcement to cover the majority of anglers would be astronomical and in a country laden with issues, this amount of budget increase would cause significant dismay to the larger non-angling population. As a result of this lack of visible enforcement, some anglers have been reaping the benefits of poaching (that's what it is.) on the backs of honest fisherman.
Figuring out how much of the angling population are disregarding the rules (and by doing so, giving us all the finger), is a seriously tedious task. Previous estimates of recreational fishers breaking the rules have come from figures relating to the amount of people that enforcement officers caught, or how many openly admitted to doing it. The problem with these methods are 1.) people avoid enforcement officials like the plague (when they are around) and 2.) Nobody in their right mind openly admits breaking the law to a complete stranger holding a clipboard. Needless to say, these methods provide figures much lower than the actual figures. There are more complicated techniques which involve some understanding of statistics and coin flips, but it's enough to even confuse the people conducting the research.
I needed a new method that would allow fisherman to remain anonymous and feel that their answer to my question was confidential. That's where Jacob Zuma saves the day... Ok, well not really, but it was the means by which he could be removed from power that gave me the idea. Since the ANC will not openly vote no-confidence of their president, as a means of protecting themselves (according to the DA and EFF), it was brought up to the constitutional court that the votes be anonymous... a secret ballot. It makes sense. So I thought to myself: "self, if it's enough to ensure that an MEC member feels their career is protected, surely that's enough for an angler to feel they won't receive the seemingly minuscule fine they may receive if I were law enforcement" (My thoughts are seldom this profound). And so was birthed, the ballot box method. This method is just as it sounds. An angler anonymously records which rules they broke at least once in the last twelve months, folds it up, places it in the box and that's it...
You may be thinking: "those dudes definitely still lied". Some of them likely did. In fact, I had to verify this method (after-all it counts towards my degree) and make sure it could hold up to scrutiny. To do so, involved me hiding in the foliage in a ghillie suit or in a car with some high end optics (including night vision) where I spied on you... Hey, if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about (I'm not just talking about fishing stuff, some people are weird in public). After watching people break a regulation, sometimes multiple regulations multiple times, I interviewed them (already knowing what their answers should be). Good job to the 96% that admitted to wrong doing. Additional shout out to the ones that admitted doing something I didn't even witness..
So after travelling to fishing spots from Port Nolloth all the way around the coastline to Cape Vidal, I was able to start putting some numbers to non-compliance. Out of the 841 shore anglers interviewed, overall non-compliance was generally high, with approximately 43% of respondents admitting to violating at least one regulation on at least one occasion over the previous 12 months. 14% admitted to breaking multiple regulations at least once.
The most common violations include: fishing without a permit (14.70%), keeping (14.10%) or using undersized fish as bait (13.20%) and exceeding bag limits (9.90%).
Permits are required in order for fisheries managers to properly regulate the recreational fishery. The Eastern Cape had the highest prevalence of fisherman violating this regulation , where 22.20% admitted to having fished without a permit. KwaZulu Natal indicated a significantly lower rate of fisherman operating without a permit (7.60%).
Minimum size limits were introduced by fisheries managers to prevent the overharvest of various species by protecting them at vulnerable stages of their life-cycle and allowing them to reach sexual maturity. The Western Cape reported the highest percentage of anglers who kept undersized fish (15.50%) followed by KZN (14.10%). Anglers did not consider using undersized fish for bait as “keeping” them and therefore acknowledged their use of undersized fish in the “Illegal bait and tackle” category. Here KZN was by far the largest violator, where 18.70% of all anglers interviewed admitted to using illegal bait, followed by the Eastern Cape (15.60%)
Individual daily bag limits are intended to reduce overall fishing mortality of fish populations. The Western Cape (10.90%) and KZN (10.50%) were the higher violating provinces for this regulation. In rural areas, many more fisherman admittedly kept more than their daily bag limit (14.70%)
Fishing in closed areas, keeping fish during their closed season and selling fish were violations that were less likely to be committed by anglers. The highest percentage of violations of these regulations occurred in the Western Cape.
Although perceptions of current enforcement levels in many fishing areas are low and in some cases fishers have taken advantage of this for illicit activities, the majority of the population agrees with the legitimacy of the regulations and that fishers should remain compliant. Open ended suggestions by the anglers often included comments about increasing the levels of enforcement. This was not only argued on behalf of ensuring the success of the regulations, but also due to the fact that many fishers indicated that they would feel safer with a law enforcement presence around. It appears that overall, increased levels of enforcement would be supported by recreational anglers.
Based on these findings, South Africa has over 100 000 non-compliant marine shore-based recreational anglers. These anglers may harvest over 1 500 000 fish illegally per year (and that's if they stick to the bag limits).. Really though, if 100,000 illegal fisherman caught 10 fish per day... That's 1 000 000 fish each day.. And that's just the rule breakers.
Since it would take a radical budget increase for DAFF's fisheries department to accomplish the goal of enforcement everywhere, all the time, for now recreational fishermen will have to work on self-policing strategies. There are many opportunities to name and shame these days on social media outlets. You should never confront an angler physically unless you have the certainty that your life is not at risk, but the very least you can do is report them to the DAFF hotline or in some areas municipal law enforcement.
One recommendation for government would be for coastal municipalities to engage with DAFF to facilitate the devolution of fisheries enforcement responsibilities and that these municipalities include a law enforcement component in their Coastal and Estuarial Management plans in order to ensure the long-term sustainability and utilisation of coastal resources.