COVID-19 impact on fisheries enforcement in South Africa

Posted By Orbital Design:9th Oct, 2020

Despite lockdown measures, instituted by the South African government, fisheries offices have stayed open. Staff numbers and working hours have not been affected as fisheries law enforcement was declared an essential service by COVID-19 Regulations.

Fisheries inspectors are working from home, only visiting the office when essential. This has not affected important processes as video conferencing platforms are being used to host meetings and to communicate with colleagues.

Inspectors have home access to computer equipment including access to vessel monitoring system (VMS) and automatic identification system (AIS) satellite tracking systems used to monitor licensed and flagged vessels and to identify vessels in the South African exclusive economic zone. The VMS office has also been open with ongoing monitoring taking place. No changes in fishing vessel behaviour during fishing trips have been observed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inspectors have seen benefits as more time is being spent in the field. Inspections continue to take place and inspectors are making use of personal protective equipment, adhering to social distancing and sanitization. At the start of the pandemic, inspectors struggled to get personal protective equipment as there was a big demand, but it has now been resolved.

Fishing vessels are still operating and visiting port, and inspectors are still boarding vessels for inspection. The cooperation between Fisheries and Port Health has been strengthened. Port Health must clear vessels before inspections can be done, and inspectors need to follow COVID-19 protocols. Inspectors are also working closely Police, Port Authorities, Port Health, Customs, South African Maritime Safety Authority, and Immigration authorities.

Licensing applications have been processed as normal, however with the exception of some Japanese flagged vessels, few foreign vessels are licensed to fish within the South African EEZ.  The National Observer program has continued to operate.

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