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Yet again a volunteer patrol last week interrupted the damning acts of fish poachers who set up their gill nets in the harbour waters.
This time it was in the vicinity of Pelican Island, where 1.6 kilometres of nets were recovered, filled with both living and dead marine species of every type and size – whether edible or inedible.
Gill nets are aptly named ‘walls of death’; their mesh is small and their spread is wide, so there is little chance of any prey escaping its deadly snare.
Not a night goes by that does not see these poachers take to the waters in their makeshift wooden boats containing the Chinese-made nets, usually brought across the border from Mozambique.
Patrollers from the North Coast Anti-Poaching group have recovered as much as 20km of nets in a single month.
It does not take a genius to work out that, at this rate, the waters around Richards Bay will soon be virtually ‘fished out’.
The poachers have expanded their operations.
Whereas it used to be limited to the New Mouth sanctuary area, it is now rife in the entire harbour, including Naval and Pelican Islands, the Mzingazi and blind canals and even among the walkways at the Zululand Yacht Club, to the Steel Bridge and beyond, and who knows where else.
Every conceivable water space is under threat.
Inland waters are also not immune to poachers and we have carried stories of boats with twin engines operating on Pongolapoort Dam.
Added to gill net carnage is the illegal harvesting of mussels and crayfish along the coastline.
A number of poachers’ boats, filled with illegal gill nets, regularly litter the Richards Bay Police Station grounds – but it doesn’t even dent the poaching operations.
Don’t be misled: this is not subsistence fishing for the table, it is a large scale commercial operation and refrigerated trucks have been known to wait for the spoils.
Nor is it harmless: patrols have in the past come under fire.
The time has come for a serious round table meeting of all significant role players.
This would include the Department of Agriculture, Fishing & Forestry, the City of uMhlathuze, Transnet National Ports Authority, RBCT, water-based police units, SAPS, Ezemvelo, the courts as well as boat and angling clubs which also are significant stakeholders.
Gill net poaching simply has to stop.