The South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) has teamed up with conservation organisation, WWF South Africa (WWF-SA), to dramatically improve the management of at least 12 non-target fish species that are caught alongside hake in the offshore demersal trawl fishery.
SADSTIA’s members are the trawler owners and operators that deliver hake to fish and chip shops in every corner of South Africa; process and package fish fingers and other popular hake products for local supermarkets; and also supply a demanding international market with a range of value-added hake products.
For the next three years, SADSTIA will work with WWF-SA to implement the South African Offshore Trawl Bycatch Fishery Conservation Project (FCP) which will undertake research, implement practical actions, and generally improve the environmental performance and sustainability of the fishing activity of SADSTIA’s members, with a particular focus on non-target species management.
The non-target species are kingklip (Genypterus capensis), monkfish (Lophius vomerinus), angelfish (Brama brama), Cape dory (Zeus capensis), gurnard (Chelidonichthys capensis), horse mackerel (Trachurus capensis), jacopever (Helicolenus dactylopterus), octopus (Octopus vulgaris), panga (Pterogymnus laniarus), ribbonfish (Lepidopus caudatus), snoek (Thyrsites atun) and a number of skate species.
Although these species are collectively referred to as “non-target species” or “by-catch”, they are retained and processed by trawl operators and many of the lower value species, for example panga, snoek and angelfish, are valued as a source of good quality animal protein by lower income groups, particularly in the Western Cape.
In spite of their importance, the management of these species has traditionally taken a backseat to the Cape hakes (Merluccius paradoxus and M. capensis) that are the target of the deep-sea trawl fishery. The hakes are certified as sustainable and well managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and these species are the only ones in Africa to have achieved this status.
Although the objective of the FCP is to fundamentally improve the management of the deep-sea trawl fishery as a whole, an intended spin-off for SADSTIA and its members is that certain species are anticipated to move off the Red-list or Orange-list of the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-SASSI) and towards a WWF-SASSI Green-listing.
As Tim Reddell, chairman of SADSTIA and director of Viking Fishing explains, improved WWF-SASSI ratings will substantially enhance the image of SADSTIA which has done so much to improve its environmental footprint.
“It is 12 years since the South African trawl fishery for hake was first certified as sustainable and well managed by the MSC and in that time the industry has more than lived up to the conditions of certification. This latest partnership with WWF-SA is another important step towards improving the environmental footprint of the fishery. We have to pay attention to these non-target species and improve their management,” he says.
The FCP is based on the findings of a Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) funded project aimed at understanding how best to improve the sustainability status of bycatch species in the hake offshore demersal trawl fishery. Jessica Greenstone, the WWF-SA Marine Science and Policy Lead who compiled the initial RFA report and played a key role in developing the FCP, noted, “This is an exciting step towards implementing an ecosystem approach to fisheries management in the deep-sea trawl sector. A number of fish species that are part and parcel of the fishery will finally be given the attention they deserve through at-sea monitoring of total catches and scientific assessments of their stock status. This project also highlights the synergies of industry, government and civic organisations working together to accomplish more than anyone could alone.”
While the FCP is underway, an “Improvement Icon” will be used by WWF-SASSI to indicate that an improvement project is underway for the main non-target species caught in the deep-sea trawl fishery. This will ensure that WWF-SASSI participating retailers, restaurants and suppliers who have made commitments to sustainable seafood and supporting fisheries under improvement can easily identify which species are part of this FCP. Consumers will also be able to easily access this information as the “Improvement Icon” will be used on the main WWF-SASSI public facing tools, including the WWF-SASSI Pocket Cards, Posters and Website.
SADSTIA will play a pivotal role in the FCP and to some extent, the success of the project will come down to the ability of skippers and fishing crews to adapt to new on-board routines and practices. For instance, the skippers and fishing crews who work on the 53 trawlers that are participating in the project (27 fresh fish vessels and 26 freezer vessels) will be required to change the way they log and report catches. The goal is to ensure there is better recording at drag level and that catches are sorted, accurately tallied and reported. Such information will help scientists at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to extract accurate catch data for each of seven priority non-target species and, in time, the top 12 non-target species landed by the fishery.
WWF-SA welcomes the willingness of the various stakeholders to collaborate on this FCP.
John Duncan, WWF-SA Marine Programme Senior Manager, commented: “More often than not, there are practical solutions to many of the challenges facing our oceans, but we’re only going to solve them by sitting down and figuring them out together. This project is a great example of this and it’s exciting to see the shift in mindsets from all involved.”