Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries concerned over entanglement of whales in fishing gear

Following consultation with operators in the False Bay Area, The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy, has today decided to temporarily suspend exploratory fishing for octopus with immediate effect.

Our decision is taken following widespread public concern regarding recent whale entanglements in the False Bay area which has resulted in the untimely and cruel death of these magnificent creatures said Minister Creecy.

During a recent engagement with Fisheries stakeholders in Cape Town, Minister Creecy indicated that she is seeking independent scientific advice on practical measures that can help prevent entanglement incidents in the future.

Since then, the Department has engaged with operators and agreed that the suspension will remain until such time as scientists can investigate the matter further and explore possible mitigation measures to reduce entanglements.

In 2014, the Department established an octopus exploratory fishery that is operating in Saldanha, False Bay and Mossel Bay. This programme aims to gain scientific knowledge regarding octopus harvesting, with a view to enhancing job creation and economic development in coastal areas. Meaningful data has been collected between 2014 and 2018, and will continue until 2021 in order to ensure a solid statistical time series of catch and effort data.

Once enough data has been collected, it will be analysed and subjected to proper scientific scrutiny and review, after which a recommendation will be made regarding the viability of establishing a new commercial fishery. Such a recommendation will also consider mitigating measures in the operations of octopus fishery.

During the course of the exploratory fishery for octopus, the Department has been working with Permit Holders and other stakeholders to implement measures to minimize the entanglement of whales in fishing gear. Many practical suggestions made by various stakeholders have been implemented through the permit conditions for octopus fishery.

After special sinking lines with extra weights were introduced in 2017, there were no recorded whale fatalities in 2018. Currently, discussions have been initiated to investigate the possible use of 'acoustic release buoys' or 'time release buoys' to minimise the need for vertical lines. These options still require testing, but offer hope of dramatically reducing or eliminating whale entanglements in octopus fishing gear. Further work still needs to be done to assess commercial viability of these solutions.

Following today's meeting, operators will commence removing the gear from False Bay, focusing initially on those areas identified as most sensitive and with the highest number of interactions.

Source: Department of Environmental Affairs