Poached abalone is sold to international crime syndicates in exchange for drugs, an investigation by the provincial standing committee on Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture, has found.
Syndicates receive help from gangs who control the drug trade, and young people are dropping out of school to work as poachers, lookouts, or runners, the report stated.
According to committee chairperson, Beverley Schäfer, perly poaching costs the economy R1 billion annually, with over 90% of abalone that is on the market being obtained illegally.
The report also states that 7 million abalone are being poached every year up from 4 million in 2008 when commercial fishing was closed off due to severe depletion.
Areas like Saldanha Bay, Hermanus, Melkbosstrand and Gansbaai have been identified as hotspots for poachers.
“Currently, rock lobster population levels are at a mere two percent of what they used to be and abalone populations currently sit at 20% of former levels having decreased by an alarming 15% in the past five years,” said Schäfer.
“As South Africa is the world’s third largest supplier of farmed abalone, fishermen and women have capitalised on the illegal poaching and sale of this marine produce as a means to escape poverty and make money.
“As such, organised crime and gang-related activity have become involved in this illegal trade, bringing drug use and heightened violence to these communities.
She said poaching provides “easy money” for struggling fishers, especially ones who have no fishing rights and quotas”.