Why are people being arrested for possession of crayfish?

In the past seven months at least four people have been arrested in the Western Cape for the possession of crayfish. Why is the catching of crayfish a crime?

In April 2021 the Moorreesburg SAPS Crime Prevention Unit arrested two suspects for being in possession of crayfish tails worth R450,9000. Picture: @SAPoliceService/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG — Two people were arrested Moorreesburg in the Western Cape in April for being in possession of crayfish tails said to be worth over R450,000.

Seven months ago, another two Western Cape men were arrested for possession of crayfish worth R6.5 million.

READ MORE: Suspects caught with crayfish worth more then R6m due in court

Why were they arrested? Surely fish is fish?

Crayfish is on the red list on the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi) website. The shellfish’s population has declined over the past three decades.

According to the Two Oceans Aquarium, the rock lobster fishery sector used to catch 4,000 tonnes of crayfish per year and recently they harvested less then 2,000 tonnes.

Commercially, South Africa offers two varieties: the West Coast Rock Lobster (Jasus lalandi) found in the colder West Coast waters and the East Coast Rock Lobster (Panulirus Homarus).

The South African crayfish, also known as the spiny lobster, rock lobster or kreef, could guarantee you R340 a kg for live exported lobster.

After coronavirus hit the industry and China halted imports of the West Coast Rock Lobster, fishing communities and small-scale fishers’ livelihoods were drastically affected.

In an interview with Sowetan Live, 60-year-old lobster catcher Lorraine Brown said when the ban hit, the prices slipped to R120 per kg.

“COVID-19 had a negative impact on market demand for the majority of the 2019/20 season, with losses being incurred by the West Coast Rock Lobster fishing sector. By increasing the catch allowance for the new season, the intention is to assist the sector in their economic recovery,” said Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy.

When can fishing be done?

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has put out regulations and a list of days that one can go fishing for crayfish.

For the 2020/21 year, the dates for West Coast Rock Lobster recreational fishing is limited to 12 days between 28 November 2020 and 3 April 2021.

Western Cape crayfish fishing dates for 2020/21 are as follows:

• From 28 November 2020 to 29 November 2020 (2 days)

• From 12 December 2020 to 13 December 2020 (2 days)

• From 26 December 2020 to 27 December 2020 (2 days)

• From 1 January 2021 to 2 January 2021 (2 days)

• From 9 January 2021 to 10 January 2021 (2 days)

• From 2 April 2021 to 3 April 2021 (2 days)

The gazette makes it clear that only persons over the age of 12 may acquire a fishing permit which allows for the fishing, collecting, keeping, controlling, landing, transporting of, or possession of not more than four WCRL per day. A permit costs R94 from the Post Office, valid for the entire season.

WCRL may be caught between 08h00 until 16h00 daily during fishing times. The bag limit is four per person, per day and the size restriction is 80mm carapace length.

In 2007 the bag limit was eight per person, with the minimum size being 65mm. The size is measured in a straight line - from the point where the tail meets the body to the tip of the spine between the lobster’s eyes being 65mm.

No person catching WCRL with a recreational fishing permit may sell their catch and any lobster caught, collected or transported must be kept whole.

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