FOSAF NEWS - Trout fishing in the Karoo by Alan Hobson

Salmon Fishing in Yemen, a 2011 British romantic comedy-drama film about a fisheries expert who is recruited by a consultant to help realize a sheikh's vision of bringing the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen desert became something of a cult classic and I was reminded of the film when I read two articles in Rapport Weekliks “Forelbedryf vrees skade – Staat will boere met wetgewing reguleer” – 10 April en “Nog vis, nog vrees” -17 April.

 

 

The articles related to the way in which trout hatcheries in Mpumalanga are being harassed in terms of proposed legislation to licence aquaculture farms that produce trout for the table and to stock the local dams which play a vital role in angling-related tourism in the province.

For the past six years my wife and I have set up a stand at the annual Getaway outdoor expo in Somerset West and Johannesburg and the essential message we seek to convey is that there is trout fishing in the Karoo.

Most visitors to our stand are either sceptical or incredulous – the Karoo after all, is arid and hot but the story is an interesting one about carving a tourism niche where none existed before.

In 2002 the Roman Catholic church in Somerset East put its property on the market because it could no longer accommodate all its members and needed bigger premises.  I had long nurtured the dream of setting up a fly fishing B &B in the town so my wife Annabelle and I bought the property, something that required permission from the Vatican. We converted the church into a whisky bar and dining room, the old confessional into a fly tackle shop and the manse and the neighbouring property into a guesthouse complex.

In 1892, the Pirie hatchery, the first in the country, was started in the Amatola Mountains near King Williams Town so trout fishing has a long history in the Eastern Cape and in the past twenty years trout fishing tourism has contributed tens of millions of rands to the economy of the province.

High altitude dams such as the Mountain Dam above Somerset East provide ideal conditions for trout and in a presentation to the local council in 2009 I was able to provide empirical evidence of how this was a financial bonus for the town, in excess of R2 million a year.

Academic research backs up this contention. “The contribution of trout fly fishing to the economy of Rhodes, North Eastern Cape, South Africa” a study done in 2013 by M du Preez and D Lee of the Economics Department at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, found that the trout fishing industry directly generates approximately R5.6 million per annum for the community of Rhodes in the North Eastern Cape and sustains a minimum of 39 direct job opportunities A few weeks ago the annual Rhodes Fly Fishing Festival, held in March each year, raised R61 000 for the poor and needy in the Zakhele community in the village, most of whom rely on social grants to survive. The 2013 study found that each angler visiting the village contributed R5000 to the local economy and trout in the Rhodes area boosted the province’s tourism income by R13 million.

South Africa has become a food-importing country and we might face food riots before the end of the year.

The number of commercial farmers has declined from about 66 000 in 1990 to about 37 000 now – that’s 37 000 farmers to provide food for more than 50 million people. This has had a concomitant effect on the number of farm workers employed and the number of farms being cultivated. According to the SA Institute of Race Relations, “Between 1993 and 2007, the number of people employed on commercial farms dropped from 1.1 million to 796 806.

“The same trend was echoed in the number of farms, which declined from 57 987 in 1993 to 39 982 in 2007, a decrease of 31%.”

We need to encourage farming and fortunately government officials in the Eastern Cape acknowledge this and do not hinder our efforts. Trout only breed in running water so all the dams in the province have to be stocked and it is these dams that provide 90% of the fly fishing–related tourist income for the province. Without the trout from hatcheries a business like mine could not survive.

We stock areas dams in areas where trout are not a threat to indigenous fish species and we have done so for decades in consultation with conservation officials. The dams stocked with trout are an extension of farmers maximising their resources, generating additional income ensuring they can survive financially during drought periods.

The Karoo is renowned for its hunting and as many hunters are also anglers they welcome the opportunity to combine both interests in a single visit. The flies tied by a local woman, Julihana Johannes, who I trained, are now being posted to such people all over the world as well as to local fly fishers.

The recent visa debacle illustrated the old adage – If it is not broken, don’t fix it.

This is an English version of the article Forelhengel in die Karoo which appeared in the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, Rapport on 8 May 2016

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