In South Africa, fishermen help research

In South Africa, researchers rely on fishermen to monitor a marine protected area. The result is reliable data for some, additional income for others, and mutual trust.

The sun rises slowly over the Kogelberg Mountains. Nicolas Taylor and four other fishermen deftly get off the trailer on Clementine, a five-meter canoe, and launch it. They advance over the calm waters of the Atlantic, leaving behind the town of Kleinmond, on the southwest coast of South Africa. An hour later, they arrive at Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA) and get to work. But instead of laying lobster nets as they once would have done, they are installing remote-controlled underwater video stations with bait.

These fishermen constitute an essential element of a research project intended to quantify the volume of populations of Cape fish and lobsters within the MPA. While one normally begins by gathering this basic information before establishing a protected area, many of South Africa’s reserves have been established without clear resource management objectives or environmental information.

The Betty’s Bay MPA, for example, was established in 1973 as the “HF Verwoerd Marine Reserve”, named after an apartheid prime minister who had a vacation home nearby. This “Unhappy bond with a politician” was an additional obstacle, “And AMP was frowned upon”, explains Pierre de Villiers, director of maritime and coastal activities at CapeNature, the provincial body responsible for managing the reserve. The fishermen ignored its limits and fished as they had always done, which sparked a conflict with the authorities which continues to this day. Due to a lack of data – and the resources to obtain it – it was difficult to justify the ban on boat fishing and seafood collection.

To fill these gaps, scientists at CapeNature and three NGOs – the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA), Moving Sushi and the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) – recruited twelve fishermen to deploy, for a fee, Underwater video stations with bait in and next to the MPA. Two young people from the area – also paid – were responsible for watching the videos and identifying the species filmed, then helping the researchers to quantify the populations at the various sites.

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Nick Dall

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