Government backs down on perlemoen ban

Waghied Misbach

Waghied Misbach

The government has backed down on its plan to ban perlemoen fishing after wide-scale protests.

The season will now be extended to February 1. Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk made the announcement in Cape Town yesterday.

He said he had considered pleas from communities who depended on the sea for their livelihoods. The ban would have come into effect today.

Now a catch of 75 tons in certain areas will be allowed until next year, compared to the 125 tons allowed last year.

Cosatu's Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich welcomed the decision and declared it a victory for the poor communities who make a living from this increasingly scarce marine animal.

He said the government had made a rash decision in announcing the ban and would have to come up with a detailed plan devised with affected communities to prevent future hardship.

He said the communities' court action should, however, continue.

Perlemoen is an expensive delicacy believed to have sexual rejuvenation properties in some Asian countries.

Van Schalkwyk said the shellfish is close to commercial extinction and that any ban was a difficult decision to take because it affected the lives of poor South Africans.

"Our decision today will ensure that communities will over the festive season and the start of the new school term have some source of income."

There are now 302 title holders, of which 262 are divers and 40 are companies operating as close corporations, that are legally entitled to fish for perlemoen. About 1000 people and their families are directly affected.

Van Schalkwyk said government would announce what help it could provide for the development of the growing of the shellfish on farms.

Poaching and migration of West Coast rock lobster into the perlemoen's habitat are the main reason for its precipitous decline. The lobster consumes sea urchins that provide shelter to young developing perlemoen.

The minister said climate change might also have contributed to the decline of the resource.