Morgan Smit checks in: anti-poaching measures in Richards Bay

Morgan Smit checks in: anti-poaching measures in Richards Bay

And today on The Sardine News we have Morgan Smit checking in from the frontline in Richards Bay. Where he and his concerned mates fight poacher activities non-stop. Morgan plies the point correctly that we as communities can band together to protect our natural resources from the plague of poachers. – Sean

Criminals don’t follow laws!! DUHH! But this has been well illustrated by the gillnet poaching situation during lockdown. While the law-abiding public cowered behind their locked gates from Covid-19 and reported their neighbours for having a braai in their back yards, the criminals out there in our, supposed to be, pristine estuary & sanctuary areas have been having a field day. Many of you may be aware of the volunteer anti-poaching groups that have been established in several areas of our country, and the excellent work that they have been doing in expanding the reach, manpower & resources of the formal law enforcement roll players. With Covid-19 Lockdown and the confusion and uncertainty that it brought, most of these groups were forced to cease operations, leaving the protection of our natural marine heritage in the hands of the already overstretched SAP, DEFF and Ezemvelo, who themselves were also somewhat hamstrung by the realities that came with this pandemic. In the Richards Bay area things were no different, the main, formally recognised, volunteer anti-poaching group is the Ezemvelo Nseleni Honorary Officer Anti-Poaching Unit (APU). At the beginning of Covid Lockdown Ezemvelo issued a directive for all civilian HO’s to stand down, country wide the Community Policing Forum and Neighbourhood Watch systems were similarly shut down by the relevant authorities in an attempt to curtail the spread of Covid-19.

This had predictable results and the criminals were able to conduct their activities with far less interference from these highly effective volunteer organisations.

For us as Nseleni Ezemvelo APU it was extremely frustrating to be receiving reports of poaching activities from our various “Eyes & Ears” networks and in most cases to be unable to respond, and of course the carnage and devastation caused by the perpetrators of this super destructive illegal harvesting of our shared Marine Treasure stepped up considerably.

As our country moves into getting to grips with life after lockdown and the various “Stages” by which our lives are now regulated, these groups are beginning to re-activate. Nseleni Ezemvelo APU has been able to resume active patrolling and also to conduct several operations in the waterways around our area of responsibility, and it is evident how much poaching has been allowed to increase during lockdown, but we are working hard to stamp this out, and at the very least to beat this back to pre-lockdown levels, before proceeding in our efforts to completely eliminate poaching from our waters. Our team has removed and ultimately destroyed a large quantity of illegal gill-net, together with poacher’s boats and other poaching equipment, and been able to arrest several poachers. It is evident that we have some backlog to make up, but our team is working hard to do so. It is critical that these Volunteer Groups have the full support of the fishing communities. These guys & girls give up their time and freely contribute their own resources to this ongoing struggle to protect our natural heritage. Our groups are dependent on the public for information, and if anybody in this area sees or becomes aware of any gillnetting or other illegal/destructive fishing activity please contact our group on this number: Mel 0825584275. Please call immediately (any time of day or night, it serves little purpose to tell us a week later what you saw!). You can also join the Community Reporting WhatsApp Group (inbox Mel 0825584275), which is possibly the easiest way to share this info. We assure you of an immediate and impressive response! Please check out our group’s Facebook page at . Besides giving up their time, these volunteers also pay for their own fuel, torches & equipment, including vehicles, boats & outboard motors. Contributions by the public are very welcome and help to provide the teams with greater access to specialised equipment such as radio communications, night vision equipment and body armour, as well as additional boats, motors & resources.

Should anybody wish to assist with a financial donation towards these expenses, or a donation in materials or equipment, please contact our team leader at: , or if you like we would be most grateful and welcome a donation into our bank account at: Standard Bank. Account name : MCDHO TERRESTRAIL. Account no:371641772. Branch code: 051002. Ref Enseleni APU. Any funds donated are used directly in the fight against poaching.

Another interesting & concerning conservation issue that our group has become aware of while removing gillnets is the infestation of the Nseleni river system with an alien invasive species, Plecostomus Hypostomus, a fish that was imported to SA as an aquarium pet, and has presumably entered this natural ecosystem through being released (freed) by some well-meaning aquarium owner. These fish have no natural enemies nor predators in our waters, (not even the crocodiles will eat them!) and out compete the local species for food & habitat and also potentially disturb the nests of indigenous fishes such as Tilapia & Yellow fish, eating their eggs. So many invasive alien species get established this way. Don’t do it people! And tell everyone. Releasing non-natural species into the wild can have disastrous effects for the local, indigenous wildlife, and it is illegal! The real damage will become more evident as this alien population takes hold and expands. Look at what has happened, in Florida, with the Lionfish (Devil Fire fish) population explosion, and also Asian Carp. These are also not natural inhabitants and also presumably introduced through released aquarium pets. That whole “free Nemo” mentality, but it isn’t so cute in real life.

While our group is fairly effective in addressing the poaching problem in our area, we are limited it our reach and while we would love to expand our reach, we are normal people with our own jobs and families and without a wider public participation we are limited to protecting our own waters. It really doesn’t help telling us: “You guys should come down here to XYX, we have a real problem here!” The real value in what we have accomplished, and continue to accomplish, in the Richards Bay area is to show fishermen all over the country that this is indeed possible. It is completely do-able for concerned fishermen to gather together and form similar groups in their own areas and legally to get pro-active in protecting their own home waters, the way we have done in ours. Should you want to do this we are very happy to assist with information and advice in this respect. Anyone who wants more information is welcome to contact the writer at .

A Luta Continua

Morgan Smit.

Eish thank you Morgan for all your dedication and hard work! I sure hope you can gain some more momentum and funding with this post. From the good audience that is The Sardine News readers.

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