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MosselbayonTheline | First With The News

We all love watching their antics - in awe of their graceful agility as they effortlessly glide and breach and jump for joy in the surf despite their mammoth size . . .
Yet, these magnificent mammals of the marine jungle are systematically and increasingly killed in the most inhumane ways by thoughtless human actions - often under the misguided pretence of research and job creation.
Early last year, three Bryde's whales died in Mossel Bay's waters. An investigation was supposed to be done and the department of environmental affairs (DEA) and the department of agriculture‚ forestry & fisheries (DAFF) announced with big ado that they will be monitoring the situation and that "measures will be put in place to address identified causes".
Bydes whale carcass removed in Mossel Bay
A few months later, in September, an equally rare male sperm whale washed ashore on Swartvlei beach near Sedgefield. The autopsy performed on the beach caused quite a sensation, but nothing was ever heard again about the exact cause of death in any of the cases, or any preventative measures being implemented.
It was only this year, after another three Bryde's whales were found entangled in fishing gear of the notorious "exploratory octopus fishing industry" in the False Bay area that the government was forced by public demand to step in and halt the practice of octopus fishing.
Brydes Whale1
The new minister of environment, forestry and fisheries, Barbara Creecy, temporarily suspended exploratory octopus fishing on 28 June 2019 around the Cape Town shoreline "until scientists completed an investigation into the causes of the entanglements."
It is uncertain whether the suspension also applies to Mossel Bay and Saldanha Bay. The exploratory fishing for octopus was allegedly established in 2014 in False Bay, Saldanha Bay and Mossel Bay in a bid to develop economic hubs and create jobs in coastal areas. However, some sources say "experimental octopus licences" were already handed out 17 to 20 years ago without any legal procedures being followed and the industry provides very few jobs in South Africa.
The industry came under the spotlight in Mossel Bay last year after the death of three Bryde's whales suspected to have been trapped by octopus fishing gear, but nothing came of the investigation.
The department of environmental affairs said at the time that meaningful scientific data had been collected between 2014 and 2018 and would continue until 2021 in a bid to collect solid statistics.
Octopus traps 
A typical octopus trap with multiple ropes
Gavin Shrosbree, a permit holder for catching octopus, said in July last year "they have experienced increased vandalism to their gear over the past few weeks and this can be life-threatening to especially the whales that breed off the Garden Route coast."

"Investigations are currently underway to identify those responsible for damaging the fishing equipment, with both boat-based recreational and commercial fishermen being investigated. Legal charges will be brought against them with jail terms a possibility," says Shrosbree.

The investigation includes the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff) who oversees all fishing in South Africa. "Daff and the octopus rights holders will be applying the full might of the law in this regard and will not stop until these perpetrators are apprehended."

"The sector being targeted by the vandals is the Exploratory Octopus Fishery, through which Daff has been attempting, along with permit holders, to establish a sustainable and long-term octopus Vulgaris fishery, for over 20 years.

However, the recent fatal whale entanglements have caused such a public outcry that the industry might be permanently banned.
A recent article in the Daily Maverick following the spate of whale fatalities in Mossel Bay and False Bay due to entanglement, slammed the industry as an unscientific scam in which vulnerable marine species are wiped out for a food source that goes to China.
"In 2018, the death of three Bryde’s whales in Mossel Bay was attributed by observers to the octopus fishery. The department of environmental affairs (DEA) and the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (DAFF) promised a full-scale investigation into the deaths and better management of the octopus fishery if it was found to be the reason.
"No data from the investigation has been made public. Indeed no data from the octopus fishery in more than 15 years seems to have been made available to an independent scientist to assess the viability of the fishery, which was the main reason for handing out an “experimental licence” in the first place.
"The owner of the fishery has stated that data has been handed to DAFF, but there has been no independent verification of this either. With no researcher or scientist or even an observer on the octopus fishing boat, what kind of data has been collected at all?
"An experimental fishery is also not meant to be a commercial operation, and yet between 30 to 40 tons of octopus is being exported to China every year. In 2018 one kilogram of Octopus vulgaris from Morocco fetched about $14. It must be similar or quite close to the same price here, as it is the same kind of octopus that is being fished.
"This Bryde’s whale, along with seven others, died in our waters for a food source that goes to China. It is an industry that does not employ more than six people.
Brydes whale trapped by rope lines
Bryde’s whales die after being trapped by rope lines attached to octopus traps, which cause deep gashes. (Photo: Seachange Project)
"The magic kingdom is faltering. The darkness is taking over. We need to drastically reshape our consumption patterns and how we view seafood. There’s blood in the water and the predators are waiting. We are devouring the future of our children. We are the horror in the fairytale."


The temporary suspension of the industry by Minister Barbara Creecy is hopefully part of a comprehensive investigation into, and new legislative measures being implemented to protect South Africa's coveted marine life and eco-systems.

"Our decision is taken following widespread public concern regarding recent whale entanglements in the False Bay area which has resulted in the untimely and cruel death of these magnificent creatures," Creecy said in a statement. 

South Africa's near 3,000 kilometre coastline is a rich ecosystem, famed for its diversity and attractions, including great white sharks, seal and penguin colonies, and whales, the latter of which is a major tourist attraction.

dolfyne in Boggomsbaai albie spies1

Mossel Bay is one of only a few coastal towns where various species of the Marine Big Five - whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins - still abound. Maybe the temporary banning of octopus fishing in False Bay should be extended to include Mossel Bay and Walvis Bay too, as both harbour towns are already under severe threat of industrialization, oil and gas tankers, illegal longliners and risky experiments with fish meal plants and deep-sea aquaculture farming. 

 shark Amanda Brewer 

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