National Geographic : 2014 Dec
Southern African seas 83 effort on many of our species because we knew we were fishing them too hard,” Mann went on. “Suddenly now with equity redress we’re put- ting pressure straight back onto those resources. Yes, people are hurting. They’re hungry and need food. But these fishers will be harvesting what we’ve managed to claw back over four decades, and it’s going to get flattened in a very short time. It’s terribly complicated and emotional.” For scientists as well as fishermen: The sci- entists feel sick at the thought of MPAs be- ing opened, and the fishermen feel sick at the thought of them staying closed. Could cooperative fisheries management— the state working in partnership with the com- munities—thread the needle between ecological protection and social justice? A new small-scale fisheries policy released by the government in 2012 claims to be a paradigm shift in that direc- tion: governance from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down. The policy will give small-scale fishermen the communal rights they crave, along with preferential access to marine resources. But will it resolve the problem of too many fishermen and too few fish? Of one thing marine scientists are certain: There will be no fish for tomorrow without pro- tection today. And there is much more to pro- tect. Forty percent of South Africa’s marine and coastal habitats are not represented in the MPA network, and no MPAs have yet been established offshore, in the vast hinterland that has been called the “heart and lungs” of the ocean. “We cannot do without no-take MPAs,” Mann said. “They are our last resort.” They not only are ecological refuges and fish banks, but they provide benchmarks and baselines as well. They reveal the default settings of the ocean. And they may be the last place to see species that have been harried to the point of extinction. One such species is red steenbras, a pre- mier game fish that in 2012 was added to the prohibited-catch list. These giant bream were a South African angling institution. Up to six feet long and 150 pounds, capable of severing the fingers of unwary fishermen with their jaws, they were exciting to catch, delicious to eat, and as plentiful as the stars in the southern sky. Now, incredibly, they are almost gone. I learned that there was a resident red steen- bras at Castle Rocks marine reserve, beside the hook of land that is Cape Peninsula, so one morning I went there to look. I knelt on the seafloor while ocean swells swayed the kelp fronds and soft corals like an undersea wind. There were fish everywhere. Cape knifejaw and galjoen flitted through the kelp canopy like birds in a rain forest. Broad-shouldered romans, brick red with spatterings of white, muscled in close, and dainty French madames pecked at the bait I held, as if nibbling a madeleine. A leopard catshark wriggled under a ledge inches away. I slipped my hands under it and lifted it out. It lay as straight and still as a ba- guette. I laid it back under the ledge and watched it scuffle away. My dive partner tapped my shoul- der and pointed, and here came “Rupert,” finning through the crowd. Red steenbras are now so rare that divers have given them names. Rupert had been named after its species, rupestris. Though not one of the six-footers of yore, it was still an impressive fish, with gleaming bronze flanks and the angular snout of a high-speed train. If people could just see this, I thought. If politi- cians, fishermen, and fisheries managers could witness such abundance, they would understand that MPAs are essential for flourishing seas. Alone, they are not enough. Without just poli- cies about who can fish, and where, sustainable fisheries are an illusion. But when fishermen em- brace marine protection and decision-makers honor fishing traditions, an old paradox can be solved: having our fish and eating them too. j MORE ONLINE ngm.com/more VIDEO Feeding Frenzy Caught Between Two Worlds In Kosi Bay, near South Africa’s border with Mozambique, people have used fish traps for centuries. Can this tradition withstand modern market pressures and a surge of newcomers?