The Atlantic Sea is rough and powerful on the western side of the Cape Peninsula coastline and it speaks of failed and doomed fishing exploitation. Evidence of discarded fishing gear is everywhere, fishing nets, bundles of rope, plastic, gut lines, anchor weights, lobster traps. Plastic detritus is in fabric of the sand, in the dried kelp line, between the rocks. How did we get to this tipping point, how can we ever reverse the damage? The despondency of it all is so overwhelming that it makes me want to curl up and weep.
In the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve there is a coastal path along the western side of Cape Point to Olifantsbos. It is the wild side, a place of sea birds, baboons, seals. There is no way to get close to this wild Cape fur seal and free it of from that line of rope so deeply embedded into its neck.
Some visual images pack a visceral punch. In June over a period of just one fortnight, three whale entanglements in octopus trap lines occurred here in False Bay. Two Bryde whales died; a third, a juvenile humpback survived after being cut free. Photographs showed horrific injuries where ropes cut deeply into flesh and death by drowning, caused bloating. That’s not the worst of it, other whales prior to this had also died through entanglement. A tally of 8 apparently in recent years, but no one knows for sure. Activists sparked outrage over social media and Allison Thomson organised a petition addressed to our Minister of Environmental Affairs, Fisheries and Forestry to stop the octopus fishing. A temporary suspension was called while further assessment could be undertaken in this an “experimental” fishery. Without any scientific data to back up the sustainable viability of the octopus population an “exploratory” license was initially issued for a five year period for a catch of up to 50 tonnes per year. The experiment was to have been monitored by the Department, but apparently has now been running for seventeen years without any scientific oversight. How can the trophic impact to the food web be accurately assessed when one specie is targeted? Do the predators which hunt octopus – eg. seals, or otters or sharks prey instead on penguins? Have the shark species move off somewhere else? No one knows for sure what the knock on effect is on other marine species.
Through the years we have observed the octopus fishing boats laying out the gear – multiple traps fixed over long lines set with bouys and anchors. There are at least twenty-two traps over a kilometer of line attached each end to a bouy. The traps lie on the ocean bed and the submerged lines are supposed to be heavy enough to sink except for section up to the bouys. When the catch is retrieved all the traps need to be pulled up on deck to be emptied and then returned to the water and the gear reset along the edge of the kelp forests, and in some areas quite close to marine reserves.
Meanwhile apparently all the gear has been removed after the license was suspended and the officials debate the ethics of killing whale species over the economic validity of the industry.
Today we’re marking the 49th Earth Day after it’s inception in 1970. Celebrations?! It should be a wake up call, an urgent clarion call to action right round the globe! Let us not kid ourselves the environment is in a deteriorating state and we’re killing Earth’s creatures.
Scenes are pictured at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where beaches are littered with plastic and storm strewn fishing gear from nets to piles of rope, fish traps. Recent whale carcasses washed up near Buffels Bay and another on the Atlantic side near the Tommy T Tucker shipwreck.