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West coast rock lobster season extended as coronavirus knocks exports to China

China, struggling to contain the coronavirus, stopped importing rock lobsters. Stock photo.
China, struggling to contain the coronavirus, stopped importing rock lobsters. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF /Vladj55

Fishers and communities have been thrown a lifeline after taking a knock due to a dramatic drop in exports of rock lobster since the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 (coronavirus), the export price for rock lobster has declined.  

The department of environment, forestry and fisheries said in a statement on Sunday that in response, the west coast rock lobster season had been extended to support affected fishers.

Small and larger fishers had asked the department to take remedial measures to support the industry, workers and small-scale fishers. Ninety percent of all rock lobster is exported to China.

“The department is concerned about fishers and communities who have been adversely affected by this unexpected international event. Following consultation with the sector last week, we have decided to extend the nearshore fishery in the Western Cape until June and the offshore and Northern Cape fisheries until September,” said environment, forestry and fisheries minister Barbara Creecy.

“Because the department cannot compensate fishers for their financial losses, we have decided to extend the season in the hope that those most affected by the current drop in sales, will have time to make up for their losses,” she said. “This decision takes into account that the season in all these areas would automatically end once the 10% berried female threshold is reached,” she added.

The department had also undertaken to allow the amendment of permit conditions so that fishers in both the West Coast Rock Lobster Association (WCRLA) and line fish sectors could land their catch over weekends. Fishery control officers will be on site to monitor and record landings if this situation arises.

Creecy stressed, however, that the department could not consider granting a roll-over of uncaught lobster to the next season, but would factor under-catches into the assessment procedures used to set the 2020/2021 total allowable catch (TAC).

A consultative meeting was held on February 14 after a request by the WCRLA to temporarily close down the season because trade with China had halted as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. There was no consensus at the meeting as small-scale fishers believed that such a decision would interfere with their ability to fish for the domestic market.

The Port Nolloth Co-operative has voluntarily suspend fishing until the situation improves.

The department encouraged rights holders to explore alternative markets, including the local market, and to continue exporting frozen tails, albeit for a lower price than would normally be obtained for live lobster.

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