YWG December 2021 newsletter

Dear YWG supporter,

Herewith the latest news:


Saving the Sandfish Project.

In case you missed the October newsletter you can get up to speed by viewing the recent spring migration of the sandfish at https://youtu.be/SsvVEnKP6T0 and reading the September newsletter by by clicking here.

In September Jeremy Shelton of the Freshwater Research Centre and his team went to the dams where fry from last year’s sandfish spawn had been placed and were able to net over 1000 sandfish which had grown out to about 18cm. These were placed back into the lower Biedouw River coinciding with the spawning migration of wild fish. In the last week fry from the September 2021 spawn have been placed into five farm dams cleared of alien fishes including two new dams.,

Then in mid- November the team returned to the Doring River and its catchment to repeat the survey which had been undertaken 10 years ago. This survey revealed that the three larger native fishes, the Clanwilliam sandfish, yellowfish and sawfin were in serious trouble. The November overview which can be read by clicking here, showed that the situation has in fact worsened and all three species are close to extinction in the Doring. Whereas the Saving the Sandfish project is working to ensure ensure the long-term survival of the Clanwilliam sandfish, species similar projects are now required for the other two fishes.

Lowveld branch of the YWG.

We have a very enthusiastic Louis Wessels of Nelspruit who is setting up a lowveld branch for us. As such he will work closely with Drs Gordon O’Brien of Rivers of Life Aquatic Services (www.riversoflife.co.za) and Dr Mathew Burnett of UKZN (burnettm@ukzn.ac.za)  in collecting data on the indigenous fishes of the lowveld and nearby waterways. This area has many attractive streams amidst beautiful scenery often just below the trout zone and still in a relatively pristine state. Louis would very much like to involve local anglers who fish these rivers with this extremely interesting project, and he is available at 0824641971 and louis@tunica.co.za.

The Vanderkloof Dam research project.

Where are things so far:

In Oct we reported that the project was completed as planned and the comprehensive report was extensively peer reviewed by a number of experts, edited accordingly, accepted through the Advisory Group and by the Northern Cape Government. The Advisory Group considered 3 different economic models and the local fishers are in favour of the second model which includes 3 small vessels like those used on the West coast by small scale fishers. The Northern Cape Government will now use the final report in consultation with all stakeholders to map the way ahead. One option is the formation of a Cooperative, with support from Government, allowing for a sound business framework to be put in place. It is hoped that the Advisory Group will continue to be involved allowing for a holistic approach

Project outcomes, current proposals:  As noted these proposals for a small-scale fishery which is in the hands of the Northern Cape Government are still in the planning phase. As FOSAF/YWG we have already pointed out and emphasised that all the extensive research conducted and published in 2015 and thereafter has indicated that our inland freshwaters are not productive enough to support commercial fisheries. All attempts to date have failed, with the latest being the Bloemhof Dam fishery. The research carried out on VDK would seem to confirm this. Despite this it is apparent that unreasonable expectations have been raised and it is likely that some sort of very small-scale operation will probably be set up and funded with the backing of the NC government.

FOSAF/YWG have grave reservations about the long- term viability of even a small-scale fishery, but we do not think that gratuitous attacks on the research project are very helpful. If anything, they have fueled the resentment amongst the stakeholders some of whom are part of a very poor community and tend to show the recreational fishing sector in an adverse light. This is a pity as the research also highlights the economic importance represented by recreational fishing on this huge dam. 

Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy:

We are also dismayed by the recently announced Inland Fisheries Policy. FOSAF/YWG representatives attended virtually all the workshops arranged by the department and we conveyed our views both verbally and in writing but to no avail. In fact, at some of the meetings some views and opinions (including FOSAF/YWG) were met with unnecessary criticism by some of the other participants. However, we will continue to engage with government and other stakeholders and like most other similar bodies have grave concern about the complete lack of law enforcement.

There is a serious disconnect between the various stakeholders in the freshwater fisheries context:

  • On the one hand there are small scale fishers who feel that they require a bigger “slice of the pie” and that they are being excluded from equitable access to the fisheries resource. 
  • On the other are recreational anglers who want to limit access to the resource partly due to a deep resistance to change, but also a worry about the use of nets and that increased access and exploitation of the resource will result in over utilisation and a depletion of a vulnerable resource. 
  • In addition, we have officials who perceive that the freshwater fisheries resource and the recreational angling sector in particular, is an extremely valuable sector and want to see transformation in the sense of a better sharing of benefits. 

None of these perceptions is viable or practical on their own for the following reasons:

1.      Most parties would agree that equitable access is important, and the idea of exclusive use zones requires review and a rethink. This means that existing rights and access needs to be made more egalitarian.  The policy framework can assist to achieve this.

2.      South Africa’s Freshwater Fisheries resources are extremely vulnerable and sensitive as are many of the species that depend on these waters for their survival. The fisheries are at enormous risk from many sources, including, pollution, abstraction and in some areas illegal netting and overharvesting. Research has shown that commercial scale use of these fisheries resources is simply not viable or sustainable. 

3.      With this understood the resource can only be used sustainably on a case-by-case basis that may include the granting of small-scale rights and recreational angling access where appropriate.  However, what is clear is that other alternatives are required to ensure decent livelihoods for neighbouring communities and the sustainable survival of the fisheries resource for future generations. All of this means that all stakeholders need to come together to find appropriate solutions to these matters. The kind of unnecessary hostility we have witnessed and the taking of the law into peoples’ own hands with vigilante action is not helpful as it only inflames the situation.

Shared solutions are the only way forward. FOSAF/YWG remain committed to working with all stakeholders to find appropriate, workable and sustainable solutions both at VDK and elsewhere.

Kind regards,