FOSAF NEWS - Anti-trout lobby threatens the Constitution - Ed Herbst

The idea that that trout do not belong in South African rivers because “tigers do not belong in the Kruger Park” (“Forelbedryf vrees skade – Staat will boere met wetgewing reguleer – Rapport 10 April) is typical of the attack on trout by the anti-trout lobby that exists in government and some parastatal scientific agencies. It is an emotional response that appeals, one might even say exploits, our base instincts to distrust anything that we regard as alien or not belonging. It is also an absurd statement that seeks to place xenophobic notions about alienness at the centre of environmental management.

However xenophobic notions of alienness are not the foundation of the environmental right. The environmental right is a human right that promotes sustainable development on the basis that human beings and their needs must be placed uppermost. It should not be perverted as a home for the anti-alien views of an extreme faction in the conservationist movement. 

The truth is that trout are not the dangerous aliens that some government officials claim them to be. Trout are a beneficial species that have been farmed in this country for over 125 years both to promote food production and recreational fishing. Trout-based aquaculture is South Africa’s largest aquaculture activity reckoned by volume and the second largest reckoned by value. Trout-based aquaculture underpins trout angling which, because of the unique nature of the fishery, has given rise to a multi-billion rand trout-based recreational angling and tourism value chain.

Recreational trout angling is unique in this country because it is the only fishing resource in this country where anglers invest directly in the fishery and the ecosystems that support it. This makes trout valuable and thus worth investing in - not least because their presence has substantially increased the value of properties in towns where they are found.

The result is that trout offer the value proposition on which eco-tourism destinations and private nature reserves are promoted. This resulted in investment and decent work opportunities that were not previously available.

Some of the rest camps in nature reserves in Kwa Zulu Natal, for example, would have to close down if they did not offer trout fishing. There are towns and rural communities whose economies are supported by the availability of trout fishing. Mpumalanga towns like Dullstroom, Machadadorp and Belfast. In KZN there is Underberg and Himeville and Rhodes in the Eastern Cape. Research from the KZN tourism department suggests that 5% of the province’s tourism is fly fishing related. Research recently undertaken in Mpumalanga reveals that most of the employment in Dullstroom including the nearby Sakhelwe Township is tourism based which, in turn, is underpinned by trout fishing.

The value that trout offers is not limited to recreational angling and tourism. South Africa has become a food-importing country.  Climate change, land claim pressure and the increasing industrialisation of agriculture are all impacting negatively on South Africa’s ability to feed its people.

South Africans could not feed themselves were it not for the livestock and crops which our ancestors brought with them from elsewhere. These species – cattle, sheep, grapes, umfino and madumbis to name are all regarded as alien by our environmental authorities.

Aquaculture has been identified as a viable and sustainable means of improving South Africa’s ability to produce affordable protein. Operation Phakisa is intended to deliver on this potential. Trout production accounts for 30% (1500 tons) of South Africa’s demand. There is therefore a lot of room to grow local domestic production.

The Constitution proclaims that South Africa is a country that is united in its diversity. The idea that a species that has benefited South Africans for over 125 years is dangerous because it was once alien is incompatible with this constitutional value.

As Professor Duncan Brown of UWC, author of the book Are Trout South African? points out, the greatest threat to our aquatic ecosystems is not fish like trout but habitat degradation. One thinks of the mines operating without licenses in delicate ecosystems and the failure to maintain municipal water treatment plants which has turned rivers like the Vaal into open sewers. The truth is there are huge benefits to be had both to human health and wellbeing and to the protection of ecosystems simply by demanding that officials do their jobs properly.  Sadly many conservation officials chose to ignore this by trying to make trout what Professor Brown calls “scape fish”.

What is significant is that just as zoos breed and redistribute endangered animals to prevent their extinction, so the aquaculture industry could work with government to breed endangered indigenous fish species but the anti-trout lobby dismisses fish bred in this way as “mutants”.

The trout value chain is not anti-regulation. It supports regulation that advances government’s goal of growing the aquaculture sector and promoting the trout value chain where trout already occur. It is working closely with government to achieve these objectives.

This does not mean that there is unanimity on how this should be done.  The trout value chain is committed to seeking win-win solutions in cases where there is disagreement.

A process is underway to find that win-win in the aquaculture sector. The Phakisa Ocean Labs Conference that took place in July 2014 delivered a win-win for recreational trout value chain. Representatives of the trout value chain and national government agreed that trout would only be listed as invasive inside certain nature reserves and in areas where they do not occur but could survive if introduced. On the other hand trout would not be declared as invasive where they already occur outside these reserves. The trout value chain would self-regulate in these areas.  Risk assessments would be required if trout are to be stocked into areas where they do not occur.

This compromise was later confirmed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Provincial environmental MEC’s. Regrettably some bureaucrats are finding it difficult to accept this, so firmly rooted is their conviction that trout are invasive. The trout value chain is working in cooperation with government to address this perspective.

The trout value chain does not cause significant harm, instead it brings beneficial socio- economic value for the health and wellbeing of the people of SA. In addition, the value chain is not extractive like mining or the harvesting of national resources like marine fisheries. Given these two key facts, there is no logical basis to licence or regulate the value chain as such.

South Africans are only too aware after the recent visa debacle that we do not need ill-advised legislation that will damage our tourism potential and prospects. Let us not go down that road again.

Translated from the Afrikaans article which appeared in the Rapport newspaper.

Ed Herbst

The idea that that trout do not belong in South African rivers because “tigers do not belong in the Kruger Park” (“Forelbedryf vrees skade – Staat will boere met wetgewing reguleer – Rapport 10 April) is typical of the attack on trout by the anti-trout lobby that exists in government and some parastatal scientific agencies. It is an emotional response that appeals, one might even say exploits, our base instincts to distrust anything that we regard as alien or not belonging. It is also an absurd statement that seeks to place xenophobic notions about alienness at the centre of environmental management.

However xenophobic notions of alienness are not the foundation of the environmental right. The environmental right is a human right that promotes sustainable development on the basis that human beings and their needs must be placed uppermost. It should not be perverted as a home for the anti-alien views of an extreme faction in the conservationist movement. 

The truth is that trout are not the dangerous aliens that some government officials claim them to be. Trout are a beneficial species that have been farmed in this country for over 125 years both to promote food production and recreational fishing. Trout-based aquaculture is South Africa’s largest aquaculture activity reckoned by volume and the second largest reckoned by value. Trout-based aquaculture underpins trout angling which, because of the unique nature of the fishery, has given rise to a multi-billion rand trout-based recreational angling and tourism value chain.

Recreational trout angling is unique in this country because it is the only fishing resource in this country where anglers invest directly in the fishery and the ecosystems that support it. This makes trout valuable and thus worth investing in - not least because their presence has substantially increased the value of properties in towns where they are found.

The result is that trout offer the value proposition on which eco-tourism destinations and private nature reserves are promoted. This resulted in investment and decent work opportunities that were not previously available.

Some of the rest camps in nature reserves in Kwa Zulu Natal, for example, would have to close down if they did not offer trout fishing. There are towns and rural communities whose economies are supported by the availability of trout fishing. Mpumalanga towns like Dullstroom, Machadadorp and Belfast. In KZN there is Underberg and Himeville and Rhodes in the Eastern Cape. Research from the KZN tourism department suggests that 5% of the province’s tourism is fly fishing related. Research recently undertaken in Mpumalanga reveals that most of the employment in Dullstroom including the nearby Sakhelwe Township is tourism based which, in turn, is underpinned by trout fishing.

The value that trout offers is not limited to recreational angling and tourism. South Africa has become a food-importing country.  Climate change, land claim pressure and the increasing industrialisation of agriculture are all impacting negatively on South Africa’s ability to feed its people.

South Africans could not feed themselves were it not for the livestock and crops which our ancestors brought with them from elsewhere. These species – cattle, sheep, grapes, umfino and madumbis to name are all regarded as alien by our environmental authorities.

Aquaculture has been identified as a viable and sustainable means of improving South Africa’s ability to produce affordable protein. Operation Phakisa is intended to deliver on this potential. Trout production accounts for 30% (1500 tons) of South Africa’s demand. There is therefore a lot of room to grow local domestic production.

The Constitution proclaims that South Africa is a country that is united in its diversity. The idea that a species that has benefited South Africans for over 125 years is dangerous because it was once alien is incompatible with this constitutional value.

As Professor Duncan Brown of UWC, author of the book Are Trout South African? points out, the greatest threat to our aquatic ecosystems is not fish like trout but habitat degradation. One thinks of the mines operating without licenses in delicate ecosystems and the failure to maintain municipal water treatment plants which has turned rivers like the Vaal into open sewers. The truth is there are huge benefits to be had both to human health and wellbeing and to the protection of ecosystems simply by demanding that officials do their jobs properly.  Sadly many conservation officials chose to ignore this by trying to make trout what Professor Brown calls “scape fish”.

What is significant is that just as zoos breed and redistribute endangered animals to prevent their extinction, so the aquaculture industry could work with government to breed endangered indigenous fish species but the anti-trout lobby dismisses fish bred in this way as “mutants”.

The trout value chain is not anti-regulation. It supports regulation that advances government’s goal of growing the aquaculture sector and promoting the trout value chain where trout already occur. It is working closely with government to achieve these objectives.

This does not mean that there is unanimity on how this should be done.  The trout value chain is committed to seeking win-win solutions in cases where there is disagreement.

A process is underway to find that win-win in the aquaculture sector. The Phakisa Ocean Labs Conference that took place in July 2014 delivered a win-win for recreational trout value chain. Representatives of the trout value chain and national government agreed that trout would only be listed as invasive inside certain nature reserves and in areas where they do not occur but could survive if introduced. On the other hand trout would not be declared as invasive where they already occur outside these reserves. The trout value chain would self-regulate in these areas.  Risk assessments would be required if trout are to be stocked into areas where they do not occur.

This compromise was later confirmed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Provincial environmental MEC’s. Regrettably some bureaucrats are finding it difficult to accept this, so firmly rooted is their conviction that trout are invasive. The trout value chain is working in cooperation with government to address this perspective.

The trout value chain does not cause significant harm, instead it brings beneficial socio- economic value for the health and wellbeing of the people of SA. In addition, the value chain is not extractive like mining or the harvesting of national resources like marine fisheries. Given these two key facts, there is no logical basis to licence or regulate the value chain as such.

South Africans are only too aware after the recent visa debacle that we do not need ill-advised legislation that will damage our tourism potential and prospects. Let us not go down that road again.

Translated from the Afrikaans article which appeared in the Rapport newspaper.

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