Why I hoped that the next President didn’t like fish – part 2

I’ve excerpted most of this article below – with due credit to the Namibian newspaper, and Dudley Viall (‘mojo’) for his excellent cartoon of Namibia’s founding President Sam Nujoma catching fish from his deck-chair at Agate Beach south of Moewe Bay, his favourite gillie (yup, that’s Hugh, old fruit!) ever vigilant and attentive to the old man’s fishing needs.  Agate Beach is now popularly known as ‘Sam se Gat’.  

Excerpted from the Namibian, 9th April 1999:   

To fish or not to fish – the dilemma of the Skeleton Coast Park.  

fishing at Agate Beach - a cartoon by Dudley Viall

Namibia’s founding President Sam Nujoma catching fish from his deck-chair at agate beach south of Moewe Bay, his favourite gillie (yup, that’s Hugh, old fruit!) ever vigilant and attentive to the old man’s fishing needs.  

Stretching northwards from Ugabmond, the Skeleton Coast Park is a pristine wilderness of rock, dune, fog and sea dissected by traversing hinterland rivers whose systems and periodic flood waters support a variety of endemic plant and animal life, including the world renowned desert elephant. With access limited to a privileged few, purportedly in line with a strict conservation ethic, the fate of this environmental gem has generated great concern both nationally and internationally as the tussle between conservation ideals and national and personal interests rages on.

As an asset that begs the best of natural resource management, the Skeleton Coast Park (SCP) is controlled by two ministries – Environment and Tourism and Fisheries and Marine Resources. The Park’s land area above the high water mark is the domain of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), while Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) governs the coast below the high water mark. Enforcement of existing legislation covering the area below the high water mark is however wanting as there are no MFMR staff permanently stationed in the area, a gap that epitomises some of the flaws associated with the management of this ecologically sensitive and potential world-class tourist destination.

With some five thousand fishermen attracted to the park’s linefish resources and some eleven thousand transit visitor’s vehicles recorded annually through its gates at Ugabmond and Springbokwasser, park entrance fees (see box) seem inappropriately priced in the context of potential revenues the park could generate from tourism.
While the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Resorts management team has seemingly targeted the hardier fisherman as their preferred visitor, the majority of visitors to the park are tourists in transit between Khorixas and Henties Bay. Not permitted to deviate from the arduous Ugabmond-Springbokwasser gravel road and thus denied the privilege of visiting the Uniab River delta, the only area of the SCP which caters to non-angling eco-tourists, these transit visitors are given no recreational or accommodation options whatsoever.

Desolate facilities in the shadow of an old mine dump, and an ocean view marred by four tin toilets repel most tourists from Terrace Bay but attract fishermen who drive long distances to catch, clean and freeze excessive quantities of edible fish as part and parcel of a full board accommodation package that includes all meals, ample freezer space and unchecked movement.

Terrace Bay has no permanently-based nature conservation officer to control the movement of fishermen who blatantly ignore no-entry signs and well-established service roads to find ever diminishing linefish resources. [In early 1999] some 150 unsightly vehicle tracks bear off the main road within the designated fishing area, witness to the ongoing fishing frenzy at Terrace Bay. While there may be some genuine recreational anglers, who catch fish to satisfy their piscatorial proclivities and gastronomy, returning excess fish to the sea, they are an exception to the rule.

VEHICLE TRACKS, the larger ones those of armoured vehicles, presumably part of the founding President (Nujoma)’s fishing entourage, scar the once beautiful gravel plains. They will remain an ugly reminder of blatant disrespect for the environment for the next 200 years.
Inexplicably, a very large presidential fishing team also contributes to the environmental impact on this sensitive ecosystem while attending to President Sam Nujoma during his annual fishing sprees in the park. The tin toilets at Terrace Bay were recently installed for use by anti-aircraft gunners protecting Namibia’s president while on holiday.

Up to 1992 there were only three official vehicle turnoffs between the Terrace Bay fishing area and the park headquarters at Möwe Bay – two to the mouth of the Hoanib River and another to the airstrip near Möwe Bay. At the beginning of this year (1999) some 40 new tracks, all bearing toward the beach, were counted along this 80 kilometre stretch. Many of these are wide tyre tracks left behind by armoured vehicles.

It is regrettable that the great majority of these new tracks avoid hummock dune and other sandy areas, preferring to use the more stable substrate of the once stunningly beautiful gravel plains alongside the road. These tracks will now remain a highly visible and extremely ugly reminder of the wanton disrespect for the environment and statutory rules of the Skeleton Coast Park by the presidential fishing team and other ‘vistermanne’ for at least the next two hundred years.

Ironically, only the very privileged few will be confronted by these tracks. These are the visitors who have managed to obtain permits from the MET to visit the wilderness areas of the SCP north of Terrace Bay. They include fisheries scientists, fish-tagging teams, biologists, environmentalists, diplomats, dignitaries, surf boating and microlight enthusiasts, moviemakers, photo-journalists and engineers examining the feasibility of developing a commercial fishing harbour at Möwe Bay. At a cost of over two million dollars the Namibian government has initiated a feasibility study to transform Möwe Bay into an industrial and fishing harbour – a move considered senseless, illogical and ecologically insensitive by environmentalists. Many feel the feasibility study costs would have been better spent improving Park facilities and control.

MET officials are currently not legally permitted to search visitors or their vehicles when these are suspected of contravening the legal 30-edible-fish-bag-limit per person per day. Confiscation and levying of fines is strictly the mandate of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Unfortunately, there are no Fisheries inspectors at either of the Park’s gates.

Not counting the fish removed by the presidential fishing team, some 64,000 edible fish were removed from Terrace and Torra Bay during the period October 1996 to September 1997. Fish resources have become severely depleted, resulting in increased environmental destruction by frustrated fishermen searching for new fishing holes outside the presently designated fishing areas, and increased pressure on the MET to open up new fishing areas in the Park.

If it is the intention of the MET to manage the utilisation of natural resources in the Park on a sustainable basis, the current situation raises some questions.

Why should recreational anglers, including the President and his fishing team, be allowed to freeze and remove any fish at all? As recreational angling is permitted in designated areas why not encourage a self-catering option rather than providing full, mediocre board at Terrace Bay? Why not develop a “catch, tag and release” initiative for those privileged enough to be angling in the SCP? High angling success rates need not be correlated with high fish mortality and smaller daily bag limits should not have a negative effect on recreational angling in the SCP, or elsewhere in the west coast recreational area.

It would, however, be critically important to impose restrictions and limitations on legal (and illegal) commercial line fishing and recreational ski-boat fishing as well. These industries contribute significantly to the annual removal of linefish off Namibia’s coast. Glaring is the fact that while recreational angling may be confined to designated fishing areas in the SCP, there are no proclaimed marine reserves anywhere along Namibia’s coastline, and commercial line-fishery vessels may legally operate within spitting distance of the beach.

It is particularly upsetting to realize that the thousands of non-consumptive international tourists, who presently generate negligible revenues for the Park, are simply not being catered for, and thus represent an enormous loss of potential tourist revenue earnings for the SCP each year. There are grandiose proposals to develop an upmarket tourist infrastructure at Meob Bay and Kunene mouth, but why not attend immediately to an already existing, but presently transient, tourist clientele in the SCP?

Get rid of the shabby facilities of Terrace and Torra Bay, and implement pro-active visions of conservation, tourism, equity and partnership, where local communities can provide expert services and guidance on wilderness trails and safaris (including angling safaris). Local communities can develop appropriate tourist facilities outside the SCP, on their own or in joint venture partnerships with the private sector and be given concessions to guide tourists within the Park.

The unabated over-exploitation of precious linefish resources, the concomitant abuse of a protected area and the under-utilization of an existing world-class tourist market beg the question of Ministers Malima and Iyambo and their resource managers, as well as Mr Bunjun of Namibia Wildlife Resorts – what, indeed, are their aspirations and visions, if any, concerning this enigma, the Skeleton Coast Park?

Special Correspondent

SOME 11 000 vehicles visited the Skeleton Coast Park in 1998 at N$20 per person and N$10 per vehicle. An estimated 5000 visitors drive to Terrace Bay each year for a ‘fishing frenzy’. There are already obvious signs of environmental degradation and some 150 unsightly vehicle tracks head off the main road with blatant disregard for ‘no entry’ signs and well-established service roads to fishing holes.

Read my blog

Posted in albatross, ATF, BOFFFF, bycatch mitigation, cartoon, Dudley Viall, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, hugh berry, seabird, steenbras, vistermanne

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