Confiscated abalone numbers drop as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions bite


The amount of poached abalone confiscated by South African authorities dropped from 66 tons in 2018 to 13 tons in 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions limited illegal harvesting by well-equipped organised groups, mainly operating in the West Coast region of South Africa.

This is according to an answer by Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, to a Democratic Alliance (DA) question on the state of abalone poaching in South Africa.

She stated that the illegal harvesting of abalone along the West Coast region of South Africa is mainly a result of poverty and unemployment in coastal communities and lack of alternative forms of livelihoods.

Illegal operators focussed mainly on the coasts of Langebaan, Saldanha, Robben Island, Melkbos, Kommetjie, Cape Point, Millers Point, the Overberg (including Dyer Island), Cape St Francis Bay, Port Elizabeth, Bird Island and areas of the Eastern Cape. In 2018, authorities confiscated 66 248 kg of the easily accessible high value inshore resource. In 2019, a total of 26 583 kg was confiscated and in 2020, a total of 13 861 kg was seized. The decrease in abalone confiscations is attributed to the COVID-19 lockdown, restricting and limiting fishing activities.

The DA’s Cathlene Labuschagne asked the minister what is being done about abalone poaching. Operation Phakisa, Initiative 5: The Enhanced Coordinated Enforcement Programme was the reply. This is a programme aimed at achieving an integrated and coordinated approach in ensuring compliance with the Marine Living Resources Act. Operation Phakisa is led by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, under the auspices of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS). “The Department, in conjunction with other joint law enforcement partners, have directed interventions for dealing with syndicates as a priority,” Creecy stated.

Additionally, Operation Phakisa involves the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Unit (MCS) and the investigators working with the Hawks to predominantly address the top sphere of illegal syndicates.

The minister clearly stated that she and her department understand the predominant root of problem to be poverty and unemployment in the area. Employment in South Africa is at a record high of 32.5%, according to Reuters, and abalone poaching may be a symptom of this statistic. Their solution, while necessary, may not solve the cause of the poaching, resulting in a vicious cycle.

Between 2006 and 2016, 96 million abalones were stolen from South African waters. This bounty is worth nearly $900 million, the conservation group TRAFFIC has reported. Ninety percent of abalone exports are destined for Hong Kong, with much of the trade controlled by Chinese organised crime.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) regularly assists law enforcement in counter-poaching operations, especially in the Western Cape. For example, a combined operation with the SA Police Service and other players in December confiscated R5 million worth of abalone in the Gansbaai area.