South African abalone to come under international trade controls

Posted on 06 February 2007

South Africa has taken a decisive step towards stemming the illegal harvest and trade of its endemic abalone populations by listing the species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Cape Town, South Africa – South Africa has taken a decisive step towards stemming the illegal harvest and trade of its endemic abalone populations by listing the species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The proposed Appendix III listing, which comes into effect on 3 May 2007, requires all future international trade consignments of South African abalone (Haliotis midae) — more commonly known as perlemoen — to be accompanied by CITES documentation.

“The CITES listing has the potential to reduce illegal harvest and trade in this valuable and sought-after marine mollusc,” said Markus Bürgener of TRAFFIC. “However, the listing alone is unlikely to secure results and much will depend on the support provided to customs and CITES officials in all countries through which the product is traded.”

Perlemoen is one of three abalone species that can only be found in South African waters. The meat is a highly valued delicacy and considered to be an aphrodisiac in some East Asian countries. Its shells are also sought after as ash-trays, soap-holders and food receptacles.

Illegal exploitation of abalone in South Africa is believed to be the most criminalized wildlife trade in Africa today. Continued illegal harvest and trade could result in the fishery becoming no longer commercially viable, and may cause the closure of the legal fishery and with it hundreds of jobs.

According to TRAFFIC, poaching of perlemoen has seen the legal catch be reduced from 430 tonnes in the 2002/2003 season to 125 tonnes in 2006/2007.

“We are concerned that over-harvesting is threatening the conservation status of the species and could impact on the intricate balance of associated marine reef systems,” Bürgener said.

While South Africa is the only country to have listed an abalone species on CITES, he noted that many other abalone exporting countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, are also attempting to address poaching and illegal trade.

The majority of abalone harvested in South Africa is exported to East Asia, with Hong Kong the major importer. Other major destinations include Taiwan, China and Japan. Poached abalone is frequently smuggled into the neighbouring states of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland, from where it is exported.

Although no abalone species are either commercially harvested or legally traded through these countries, Hong Kong import data have revealed imports of dried and frozen abalone from all three countries. Poached abalone is also traded through Namibia and this poses enforcement challenges since there are legal commercial aquaculture operations in Namibia producing and trading in perlemoen.

Despite efforts by the South African government to address the poaching problem, the international nature of the trade means that there is a need to secure the assistance of other countries. This is most effectively achieved through the CITES listing.

“We welcome the Appendix III listing of abalone as an attempt to cut the illegal harvesting of this precious marine resource,” said Dr Rob Little, WWF-South Africa’s Conservation Director.

“Apart from enhancing the sustainability of the abalone stocks, it is critical that the millions of Rands lost to the illegal poaching of abalone is turned into valued foreign revenue.”

END NOTES:

• A CITES Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a CITES member country that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of species listed in this Appendix is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates. CITES Parties can unilaterally list a species in Appendix III at any time. The listing would automatically enlist the necessary assistance of consumer states in monitoring and regulating the trade in abalone. Such a listing would require all consignments of the South African abalone species to carry CITES documentation and would be beneficial to both the aquacultural and wild-harvesting industries. Customs officials in countries of import would only permit consignments carrying CITES documentation to enter the country.

• TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is a joint programme of WWF, the conservation organization and IUCN - The World Conservation Union.

For further information:
Markus Bürgener, Senior Programme Officer
TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa
Tel: +27 21 799 8673
Email: burgener@sanbi.org
South African abalone (Haliotis midae).
© Rob Tarr / Marine and Coastal Management