Calls for three year ban of pilchard catches

The Namibia Chamber of Environment (NCE) has called on the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernhard Esau, to introduce a moratorium on pilchard fishing as an urgent measure – for at least three years or until the stock has recovered to a sustainable level.

In a statement released this week the Namibia Chamber of Environment has questioned the decision by Bernhard Esau, who admitted taking “a gamble” when he announced a quota of 14 000 tons for pilchard for this fishing season (namib times reported). “Minister Esau is gamb-ling with the ecological stability, bio-diversity, productivity and economy of Namibia’s marine ecosystem,” NCE charges.
According to the NCE the Minister dismissed the scientific recommen-dations when he announced the quota, stating there is a “misconception” – despite overwhelming evidence of the contrary. “Instead he suggests that pilchards simply may have moved to deeper waters, a statement that appears to be a personal view that is seemingly not backed by any solid data,” the statement reads.
The Chamber gives a brief history of the pilchard fisheries in Namibia, specifically about the collapse of the stock. “In the 1950s and 1960s the pilchard stocks were first estimated, varying between five and eleven million tonnes. Since then, it appears that the biomass of pilchard in our waters has declined by 99% or more,” it reads.
The above scenario can be attributed to the pilchard industry which grew rapidly in the 1960s, with a peak in 1968 when declared catches were 1.4 million tonnes. “Actual catches were probably much higher as much of the pilchard caught was used for fishmeal and the stock was also fished in southern Angola.” This level of exploitation was grossly unsustainable and as a result the stock crashed between 1970 and 1972. According to the NCE fisheries scientists already in 1982 called for a moratorium in order to let the stock recover, but this was ignored.
The NEC describes pilchard as “low trophic level” forage fish species, which feeds on plankton and in turn provide food for marine predators. A drop in biomass of such species to low levels severely affects the marine food chain. In many studies conducted on this topic, the Namibian scenario is highlighted as a “worst case scenario in the 21st century.” “This has been the primary reason for the declines of endemic seabirds such as African Penguins, Cape Gannets and Cape Cormorants, all of which are now at serious risk of local extinction,” it states.
In an attempt to rectify the situation NEC calls on for an urgent moratorium to be put in place, while rigorous scientific research must be continued and intensified. Furthermore Marine Protected Areas (MPR) must be established and an agreement with Angola should be drawn up to sustainably manage the shared stock.

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