South Africa: Heat Turned Up On Abalone Poachers, the first place to look for a dive instructor

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Posted by on January 13, 2005 at 09:11:20:

Four extra vessels will assist with surveillance and prevention of harvesting

EFFORTS to curb abalone poaching along SA's coastline are to be intensified following the launch of four environmental protection vessels by the environmental affairs and tourism department.

Marcel Kroese, acting director of monitoring and surveillance for Marine and Coastal Management, says the vessels will assist the antipoaching Operation Trident through the surveillance and prevention of illegal abalone harvesting. They will also be used for pollution monitoring and fisheries protection.

Two vessels have already been launched. Another, the Sarah Baartman, was launched from the V&A Waterfront yesterday .

Western Cape police made a substantial breakthrough against abalone poachers last week. An ongoing investigation led police to two storage facilities in Blackheath where they found 14 tons of abalone with an approximate street value of R7m, and various drugs . They arrested four people.

Abalone, also known locally as perlemoen, is a marine snail found in shallow waters from Cape Columbine on the west coast to the former Transkei coast. It is regarded as a delicacy in the Far East and is reputed to have aphrodisiac properties.

Chinese syndicates, or triads, are involved in abalone poaching in SA and recruit local gangs to harvest them. The triads are often associated with other crimes such as drug-dealing, vehicle theft and money laundering.

According to a study of triads and Chinese organised crime in SA by Peter Gastrow of the Institute for Security Studies, large quantities of abalone are smuggled to Hong Kong and Singapore. Here, the possession or sale of abalone is not unlawful, and "astronomical prices" are paid for the South African delicacy.

Police allege the people arrested last week are connected to organised crime and international smuggling activity in Western Cape . They believe their bust shows the close link between abalone poaching and the drug trade as the suspects are affiliated with the local 26s prison gang and the Americans street gang.

Poaching activities have increased at an alarming rate in recent years and have slashed local populations of the sea snail and the commercial abalone farming industry.

According to Kroese , 550000 abalone were confiscated by authorities last year, and total removals are estimated at 1,5- million perlemoen.

Monitoring the coastline for abalone poachers is the responsibility of Marine and Coastal Management, part of the environmental affairs and tourism department, and the police.

In August 2000, a joint antipoaching campaign called Operation Neptune II was launched, consisting of active monitoring and surveillance of the coastline with the involvement of residents in the seaside town of Betty's Bay.

Operation Neptune II is being relaunched as Operation Trident and will officially begin in four months . Kroese says the new initiative will "relocate policing staff to crime prevention instead of surveillance, including marine crime" and aim to address the root cause of the poaching.

Markus Burgener of TRAFFIC, an organisation involved in efforts to stop the illegal international trade in endangered animals, welcomes these co-ordinated efforts.

"So far, SA's approach has not been holistic and has focus ed only on the harvesting of animals," Burgener says.

TRAFFIC and other environmental organisations are trying to get abalone upgraded by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to Appendix 3 status, which will result in increased import and export controls .

Burgener explains that most abalone illegally harvested in SA is routed through neighbouring countries to the Far East. Currently, legislation in Southern African Development Community countries does not make any provision for abalone as the species is not found in those countries.

In 2002, 89 tons of frozen abalone were exported from SA to Hong Kong, which is the biggest importer of the delicacy. Exports to Hong Kong from Mozambique amounted to 106 tons, from Swaziland 55 tons and Zimbabwe 33 tons . SA aside, none of these has an abalone population.

Burgener says listing abalone on the Cites index will involve consumer states in poachingprevention efforts. All abalone imported by them will require Cites documentation, making the work of poachers and those running illegal syndicates more difficult by creating "a paper trail".

"We said we meant business, and we are showing it," Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the handover ceremony at the harbour yesterday on board the Sarah Baartman

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