Fishing industry partners with conservationists to save penguins
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Fishing industry partners with conservationists to save penguins

Proposals to halt the decline in the African penguin population

SOUTH AFRICA:  Key fishing industry and conservation stakeholders have teamed up to address the decline in the breeding populations of the African Penguin, while simultaneously attempting to minimise the negative economic impact such proposals could have on the pelagic fishery. 

African penguins are an iconic Southern African species with important ecological roles. They attract significant national and international tourists annually.

The endemic African penguin numbers have declined drastically from approximately 52,000 pairs in 2004 to 13,200 pairs in 2019. If current population trajectories continue, African penguins could be functionally extinct within 15 years. The African penguin was classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2010.

Earlier this year, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy established a joint task team from the Department and SANParks to determine management options for the African Penguin based on available evidence, as well as NEMA principles of conservation, precautionary approach and balancing ecological and socio-economic interests. 

The Team provided a synthesis of scientific information on African penguins, fisheries and island closures. This forms the basis for decisions or options on additional measures required to mitigate further declines of African penguins.

The process followed recognised that the African penguin population is in a critical situation and urgent action is needed to stop further decline. It is also recognised interventions around breeding colonies will need limit economic implications for the Small Pelagic Fishery sector, an important fisheries sector.

Among the numerous management proposals contained in the joint internal departmental technical task team report handed to the Minister for consideration is that fishing around six penguin colonies be limited.

The colonies identified for intervention are at Dassen Island, Robben Island, Stony Point, and Dyer, St. Croix and Bird Islands. These are not the only existing colonies, but have been identified because they support larger numbers of breeding penguins.

Together these islands are home to about 88 percent of breeding pairs of African Penguins along the South African coastline. 

The proposals were developed as a basis for engagement with the conservation and fishing sectors. These stakeholders are not only key to, but also existing partners in, South Africa’s ocean governance, sustainable use and conservation efforts.

There are at present some limitations of fishing around colonies, especially within existing Marine Protected Areas. These current closures and limitations demonstrate the acknowledgement of concerns around the decline of these populations, and the government’s willingness to act.

Concern regarding the decrease of African penguins led to promulgation in 2013 of the Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Penguin Spheniscus demersus” (AP-BMP) which aimed to halt the decline of the African penguin population in South Africa within two years of its implementation. The aim was to achieve a population growth that would result in the downlisting of the species in terms of its IUCN Red List status. This first management plan failed to halt the decline or reverse it.

The African Penguin population is exposed to a multitude of stressors. These include a lack of available food, predation, climate change, disease, disturbance, shipping vessel activity, competition with other predators for food, as well as the availability and quality of breeding habitat. These may all have individual, combined and cumulative impacts on the penguins. The decline of the penguin population has resulted in public concern and various requests have been made to address the conservation and protection of African penguins.



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