Stepping up South Africa’s regional engagement to stop IUU fishing through SADC Atlantic project

By Stop Illegal Fishing:27th Feb, 2023:

Meetings to kick-off the SADC Atlantic Project were held in Cape Town, South Africa, on 21-23 February 2023 to set the foundations for the project implementation. The inception visit was jointly organised by the Interim Project Management Unit (IPMU) of the SADC Fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Coordination Centre (MCSCC) and the team of Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF). The SADC Atlantic project is a US-funded project of the SADC and the SADC MCSCC, which aims at supporting South Africa as well as the two other countries of the Benguela Current Convention – Angola and Namibia – to strengthen their engagement in the regional centre and through this contribute to regional efforts to stop illegal fishing.

The challenges that fisheries managers face in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are complex, with external threats having large and negative impacts on the region’s fisheries. In the last two decades, South Africa, alongside the other SADC countries, have taken actions to improve regional cooperation to tackle these issues, including through the adoption of a Charter to set-up the MCSCC.

Pending the entry into force of the MCSCC Charter[1], the Indian Ocean SADC countries have been cooperating through FISH-i Africa since 2012. However, the Atlantic ocean countries forming part of the Benguela Current Convention – Angola, Namibia and South Africa – were then not included in this process. As FISH-i merged into the SADC MCSCC, the BCC countries are now working to strengthening their cooperation with the MCSCC and all SADC countries and the SADC Atlantic project will support these efforts through capacity-building measures tailored to the needs of the countries.

The goal is to stop foreign illegal operators and their fishing vessels from operating within Southern Africa, therefore reducing incidents of illegal fishing and associated crimes, resulting in more sustainable fish stocks supporting blue economic growth; and safer, fairer and more legal fisheries underpinning improved social and economic benefits for the people of the SADC.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) welcomed the partnership offered by the project, and technical discussions at management level allowed the identification of priority actions to build the capacities of South Africa in fighting IUU fishing, in their waters and at the regional level. The activities that will be unrolled as part of the the SADC Atlantic project will be based on the needs expressed by South Africa.

Fighting IUU fishing in South Africa and in the region goes beyond the issue of fisheries. The technical discussions with the DFFE highlighted the fact that crime is often involved in IUU fishing – and that interagency cooperation is necessary to address those different dimensions. These aspects, including capacitating partners of the DFFE, will be taken into account in the action plan designed with the Department. One of the core concerns of South Africa where fisheries converge with crime is the abalone fishery, which illegal harvesting and trade is intertwined in many challenges for the country and its coastal population. South Africa estimates that the country has lost billions of South African Rand in economic value between 2000 and 2020 due to illegal abalone trade – a violent economy to which the population and their environment are paying a strong tribute.

To address this threat, South Africa has started a consultative process to elaborate a national strategy and action plan to prevent and combat the trade in illegally harvested South African abalone. This consultation was organised by the DFFE as part of a 5-day workshop, which gathered relevant stakeholders from within government, the private sector, academia, and civil society, and in which Stop Illegal Fishing participated. Whilst illegal harvesting of abalone is a challenge for South Africa, regional cooperation will be needed to address the issues all along the supply chain.

[1] The Charter was adopted in 2017. At the time of the visit, the required 2/3 mark of SADC Member States signatures for the Charter to enter into force had not yet been reached.

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