The SA government is ignoring facts, scientists and fishermen

The SA government is ignoring facts, scientists and fishermen

* All information below has been gathered from Smoothhound and Soupfin sharks stock assessment data supplied by the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries (DEFF).

In 2018 DEFF published its review of the National Plan of Action (NPOA) for sharks which identified the “Inadequate regulatory reference to sharks” as one of the main hindering issues.

DEFF scientists reported that since 2013 (since the original NPOA) there had been “No progress due to attrition of staff with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), lack of assessments and scarcity of skilled resource managers”.

Whilst the assessments for several shark species were achieved by DEFF’s scientists in 2019, the Human Resource issues within DEFF appear to remain the stumbling blocks in the implementation of “harvesting strategies consistent with the principles of biological sustainability, attained through scientifically based management and consistent with a Precautionary Approach” which is DEFF’s own shark NPOA’s mission statement.

2018 NPOA-Sharks update2012 NPOA-Sharks draft

All along the South African coastline where these DSL vessels operate, the coastal communities are up in arms. People from various sectors are simply watching their livelihoods disappear.

From commercial and recreational fishermen to eco-tourism and charter operators the sentiment is the same. Petitions of tens of thousands have been ignored.

Perhaps what is most worrying is that DEFF’s very own scientists have been ringing the alarm bells since 2011 and in every subsequent shark working group meeting thereafter, calling for slot limits, total allowable catches and tighter controls.

Despite this, to date senior management officials have implemented no recommendations and the situation continues as is.

In the case of the shark longline fisheries primary target species, the Smoothhound shark (Gummy shark in Australia), scientists at DEFF recommended a total allowable catch of 75 tons back in 2016 as well as recommending slot limits in 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2017.

During a parliamentary interrogation in 2019 (Download the Parlimentary Report) Minister Creecy, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, and her senior advisors were forced to confirm the data for the following years from just the three active vessels in the DSL fishery alone:

  • 2016: 17,588 sharks (~123t) = 1.6 times higher than recommended for all fisheries
  • 2017: 18,298 sharks (~128t) = 1.7 times higher than recommended for all fisheries
  • 2018: 30,112 sharks (~211t) = 2.8 times higher than recommended for all fisheries
  • 2019: the quantity provided for the first semester of 2019, when doubled for that year, reached

23,592 sharks (~165t) = 2.2 times higher than recommended for all fisheries

When these quantities are included in the effort graph from the assessment by DEFF reported in 2019, they show a situation clearly far from the one recommended by DEFF’s own scientists:

The first URGENT management actions requested by DEFF’s own scientific experts in the 2019 assessments, was the implementation of SLOT LIMITS for both species. These slot limits were in fact:

  • Proposed in 2011 by the Department’s Line Fish Scientific Working group
  • Formally introduced as scientific recommendation in 2015
  • Then signed by the delegated authority
  • Their gazetting was also endorsed by the Minister

To date, none of these recommendations have been implemented.

Other important information gathered by DEFF scientists are represented in the table below.


  • B Biomass (body weight of that fish stock)
  • K Original biomass
  • F Fishing mortality rate = the proportion of that fish stock caught and removed by fishing
  • MSY Maximum Sustainable Yield = the largest yield (catch) that can be taken from a specific fish stock over an indefinite period under constant environmental conditions
  • BMSY The biomass that enables a fish stock to deliver the maximum sustainable yield
  • FMSY The maximum sustainable rate of fishing mortalit