African penguins squabbling in the water in the Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area in the Western Cape.
Peter Chadwick/Gallo Images
- Government has declared temporary closures for commercial fishing of anchovies and sardine around major penguin colonies.
- Stocks of sardine – that penguins feed off – are at historically low levels.
- An international scientific panel will review and advise government on the impact of these fishing limitations on penguins’ survival.
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Government has temporarily closed commercial fishing of anchovy and sardine near key penguin colonies in order to determine whether this is effective in supporting their survival.
In a statement issued by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) indicated that the decision follows lengthy negotiations with seabird conservation groups and the pelagic fishing industry. It is apparent that not all sides agreed on the decision.
“While these closures do not represent a consensus position between the two sectors, the department is of the view that this is the best decision we can take at this stage to support penguin populations,” the statement read.
The closures will be in place from 1 September 2022 to 14 January 2023 and include specified areas around Dassen Island, Robben Island, Stony Point, Dyer Island, St. Croix Island and Bird Island – where there are larger penguin colonies.
The population of the African penguin – an endangered species – at St Croix has declined sharply over the years.
The DFFE also recently published a new draft biodiversity management plan to save the species that have declined from over one million pairs in the 1920s to just over 10 400 pairs in 2021.
READ | New plan in the works to save endangered African penguin, whose numbers are still dwindling
The department has furthermore stopped purse seine fishing (making use of nets for large catches) in False Bay, where the Boulders Beach penguin can be found. According to the department, sardine stock in South African waters is historically low. The resulting competition for food is considered to be contributing to the decline in the African penguin population.
Other pressures include shipping traffic and the associated noise and vibrations, pollution and degradation of suitable nesting habitats through historic removal of guano and coastal commercial and residential developments.
The closures will allow for an international scientific panel to be appointed that will review existing data and science and advise the department on the “value” of the fishing limitations on penguins’ survival. They will also provide insight into the impact of the constraints on the fishing industry.
“Both sectors have committed to abiding by the recommendations of the international panel,” the statement read.
Minister of Forestry Fisheries and Environment, Barbara Creecy, will also gazette a call for nominations for the panel.