Here's how the coronavirus is hurting West Coast fishers in South Africa

Lamberts Bay Harbour – West Coast, South Africa / Image via Flickr: South African Tourism

The West Coast rock lobster season has been extended to support fishers affected by the dramatic drop in exports to China since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, the environment, forestry, and fisheries department announced on Sunday.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, or coronavirus, the export price for rock lobster had dramatically declined, the department said in a statement.

90% of all West Coast rock lobster exported to China

As a result, both small and larger fishers had asked the department to take remedial measures to support the industry, workers, and small scale fishers who had been adversely affected. Ninety percent of all rock lobster was exported to China.

“The department is concerned about fishers and communities who have been adversely affected by this unexpected international event. Following consultation with the sector last week, we have decided to extend the nearshore fishery in the Western Cape until June and the offshore and Northern Cape fisheries until September,” Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said in the statement.

“Because the department cannot compensate fishers for their financial losses, we have decided to extend the season in the hope that those most affected by the current drop in sales will have time to make up for their losses. This decision takes into account that the season in all these areas would automatically end once the 10 percent berried female threshold is reached,” she said.

An additional undertaking by the department had been to allow the amendment of permit conditions so that fishers in both the Western Cape Rock Lobster Association (WCRLA) and linefish sectors would be able to land their catch over weekends. In such instances, fishery control officers would be on site to monitor and record landings if this situation arose.

However, the department could not consider granting a roll-over of uncaught lobster to the next season, but would factor in the under-catches into the assessment procedures used to set the 2020/21 total allowable catch (TAC).

Coronavirus trade ban

A consultative meeting was held with stakeholders on 14 February following a request by the WCRLA to temporarily close the season because trade with China had halted as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. There was no consensus at the meeting, as small scale fishers believed that such a decision would interfere with their ability to fish for the domestic market.

The Port Nolloth co-operative had voluntarily suspend fishing until the situation improved.

The department encouraged rights holders to explore alternative markets, including the local market, and to continue exporting frozen tails, albeit for a lower price than would normally be obtained for live lobster.

By African News Agency (ANA), editing by Jacques Keet

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