An inspirational tale of success for both fishermen and fish has played out along the South African coast. At the Goukamma marine protected area, a beautiful, scarlet seabream found only in South African waters is benefiting from protection – and so are the fishermen who catch the species as part of their livelihood.
By comparing how things were before the creation of the protected area and how they are afterwards, Sven Kerwath, a specialist scientist at the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and his colleagues have been able to show the effects of the Goukamma marine protected area on both fish and fishers.
Your study looked at the effects of the Goukamma marine protected area on a specific fish species – red roman – and the local fishermen. Can you paint a picture of what it’s like to be there and stick your head under water?
Goukamma is on the Garden Route along South Africa’s south coast. It’s a medium-sized marine reserve, about 40 square kilometres (15.5 square miles) in extent. The first thing you notice when you dive in an area like Goukamma is that there are many more reef fishes than in fished areas. You have bigger fish, in general; you have a higher diversity as well. You also have more predators. You have a fair number of shark species there.
But you are allowed to fish from the shore of the Goukamma marine protected area and the offshore boundaries are not clear to the fishermen. So there is a lot of fishing along the demarcation line and even slightly inside the protected area.
Who are the fishers around Goukamma, specifically the ones who fish for red roman, the seabream your research concentrated on?
It’s a small-scale, essentially artisanal fishery, so from a livelihood point of view most of those people are on the verge of being at subsistence level. The fishing is low impact and small-scale, but high diversity. These are people who depend on the sea for their livelihoods, but over the years their boats have got bigger and slightly more industrialised. Some of the vessels have freezer capacity so they can go out overnight and they have started targeting reef fish species, including red roman. And many of these species have since almost disappeared.
What makes the study that you led exceptional?
When I started working for the South African government, I was tasked with overseeing the assessment of the line-fishery. I found this awesome database there: basically the National Marine Line-Fish System, which has all the commercial line-fish records since 1985 from all the fishers. It’s actually amazing. The proclamation of Goukamma [in 1990] is somewhere in the middle of the data series, so you have a before–after control impact study design. And that is something that doesn’t exist very often around the world apparently – well, otherwise someone else would have done a similar study! And because the red roman seabream is endemic to South Africa, we can assess the entire population.