Vlei fish ‘plundered’

A single nights takings from Zandvlei Estuary by poachers who deplete fish stocks.

There is prolific poaching almost every night in the Zandvlei estuary, the only nursery for three kinds of endangered fish on the False Bay coast.

The poachers are fishing at night, with multiple lines, using throw nets, pumping prawns and catching and keeping juvenile fish. They’re also exceeding catch limits.

Muizenberg and Lakeside anglers are desperate to preserve the already threatened fish. They warn the poaching has never been this bad and want the City of Cape Town, which manages the estuary, to act.

Anglers Pierre Niehaus, Anton Russel, Morne Strydom and Robin Cochius say City rangers will issue a warning to the poachers one night, but they’ll be back the next. And in one night, alone, they caught 20 undersized steenbras.

The fish population would suffer critical harm if law enforcement did not start arresting the poachers, said Mr Strydom.

The estuary is a nursery for several fish species, including the white steenbras, carp, leervis/garrick, tilapa, Cape stumpnose, as well as mullets, elf, klipfish, goby and blaasop.

The white steenbras, Cape stumpnose and garrick are all on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) red list as endangered; it is illegal to buy or sell them.

Mr Russel said he had fished in the vlei for 25 years, mainly for leervis, and only catch-and-release.

The spike in poaching, he said, coincided with an all-time low in law enforcement of it, something he attributed to Zandvlei Nature Reserve losing its manager over a year ago.

“In spite of direct promises made by the City to the public several years ago at a series of meetings, especially around the time of the algae bloom that killed off most of the fish, the handful of rangers who patrol the vlei still have no rights to make an arrest.

“They also struggle to get law enforcement to respond to incidents, leaving them demoralised and without teeth,” Mr Russel said.

Soon after the anglers spoke to the Echo the poachers were back in their usual spot, telling residents who confronted them that they were fishing to feed their families, or claiming ignorance of the law.

The residents said signage posted by the City was quickly broken or removed so it was easy for poachers to feign ignorance.

The anglers said the poachers had been known to get aggressive when challenged.

“This makes honest anglers and members of the public wary of calling them out,” Mr Cochius said. “But we still do approach them – we are driven by our concern for the future of Zandvlei.”

Mr Russel said: “Zandvlei’s importance cannot be quantified in mere monetary terms alone. That it is being allowed to be systematically plundered, often in broad daylight and certainly on most if not all evenings, is a shameful dereliction of duty which has gone on for years.”

The anglers said the solution was not complicated: some regular patrols by officials who could check permits, arrest law breakers and confiscate equipment would solve the problem almost immediately.

“The authorities have the full support of a large group of anglers who are prepared to be their eyes and ears, who are desperate to report transgressions but simply have nobody worthwhile to report to,” Mr Russel said.

Apart from the poaching, the anglers said the vlei needed to be dredged again to let juvenile fish reach the sea.

The Muizeberg Lakeside Residents’ Association said poaching was not new to Zandvlei, but the brazen use of nets, even during the day, was on the increase.

And when members of the association’s execo had confronted the guilty parties, they had feigned ignorance, said the association’s Catherine Dillon.

Ms Dillon said regular patrols by law enforcement were needed urgently. “Any and all activity after dark is illegal and needs to be investigated by the City’s anti-poaching team,” she said.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said City staff did respond to poaching at Zandvlei, and several people had been fined.

Any illegal fishing or other law enforcement issues could be reported to the City’s marine law enforcement unit at: 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.

He said the mouth of Zandvlei had last been dredged of sea sand in 2015 and there was no money to do it in this financial year.

Ward councillor Aimee Kuhl said she was aware of the poaching issues and both rangers and law enforcement officers could enforce the by-laws. Newly appointed law enforcement auxiliaries could also help to net the poachers. Zandvlei Estuary had not had a manager for about a year, she added, and the City was working on filling the position.