The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has declared some areas around the major penguin colonies in South Africa as closed to commercial fishing for anchovy and sardine.
The sardine stock in South African waters continues to be at historically low levels, and lack of food is thought to be one of the biggest factors that are contributing to the decline of the African penguin population.
These restrictions will be temporary and follow prolonged negotiations with seabird conservation groups and the pelagic fishing industry representatives.
‘During the negotiations, both sectors were committed to discussions and offered meaningful contributions from insights into the fishing industry and conservation science,’ the DFFE said. ‘While these closures do not represent a consensus position between the two sectors, the Department is of the view that this is the best decision to support penguin populations.’
The closures will allow for an international scientific panel to be set up to review all related science output over recent years. The review will advise the Department on the value of fishing limitations for penguins’ success, as well as the impacts on the fishing industry. Both sectors have committed to abiding by the recommendations of the international panel. The Minister will shortly release a gazette calling for nominations to serve on the international review panel.
Other pressures on penguins include shipping traffic and the associated noise and vibrations, pollution and degradation of suitable nesting habitats through historic removal of guano and coastal commercial and residential developments.
The species which is endemic to South Africa and Namibia has decreased from more than a million breeding pairs to just about ten thousand pairs over the last century.
The interim fishing limitations came into effect from 1 September 2022 and will remain in place until 14 January 2023. The closed sections include defined areas around Dassen Island, Robben Island, Stony Point, Dyer Island, St Croix Island and Bird Island. These represent the remaining locations of the larger penguin colonies. Purse seine fishing is also not permitted in False Bay which hosts the resident Boulders Beach penguin population.