Shell shocker: Hong Kong gobbles all our abalone
Nearly all of the millions of molluscs poached off the Western Cape every year end up there, a report reveals
They’re separated by more than 11,000km of ocean, but a golden thread connects the Western Cape and Hong Kong: abalone.
Nearly all of the millions of molluscs poached off the Western Cape every year, then dried, end up in the special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, which is only two-thirds the size of the City of Johannesburg.
A report by Traffic, which monitors global trade in wildlife, says demand in Hong Kong is at the heart of the lucrative poaching industry which has virtually wiped out SA’s wild abalone.
SA’s neighbours are also implicated, acting as middlemen for nearly half of poached abalone shipped to Hong Kong between 2000 and 2016. Countries involved include landlocked nations such as Swaziland and Zimbabwe, as well as Namibia and Mozambique.
Traffic’s report, titled Empty Shells, says “interventions and collaborations at the international level are required” and makes seven broad recommendations to stem the trade in poached abalone:
The development by legal traders of “a robust traceability system for all abalone products exported from SA”;
Research to develop a better understanding of the domestic economics of the illegal fishery;
More inspections of key SA ports, bearing in mind that 98% of dried abalone reaching Hong Kong arrives by air;
The development of a multi-agency task force including the SA Revenue Service, Financial Intelligence Centre, police and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries;
Regional collaboration in sub-Saharan Africa to restrict abalone exports through neighbouring countries;
An assessment of the socio-economic and security risks of the possible collapse of the abalone fishery; and
International trade regulation by listing abalone under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Between 2000 and 2016, according to the report, two-thirds of SA abalone traded internationally was poached. This involved 96 million individual molluscs, or more than 15,000 a day.
The number of poached abalone reached 9.5 million in 2016, the highest so far at more than 26,000 a day, but law enforcement authorities are confiscating only an estimated 14%.
The average value of poached abalone between 2000 and 2016 was R628m a year, “on a par with two of [SA’s] most valuable export fisheries: squid and rock lobster”.
Authors Nicola Okes Markus Bürgener, Sade Moneron and Julian Rademeyer said the risk to the economy of choking poaching should not be underestimated.
“The long-term involvement of so many individuals in this illicit economy and their exposure to other related crimes such as drug smuggling, money laundering and tax evasion makes them highly vulnerable to a collapse in this economy, leaving them without the skills, relationships and networks to secure legal employment,” they said.
“Depletion of the stocks not only has long-lasting impacts on the resource and the ecosystem, but also robs the economy of potential revenue that could be gained through a sustainable abalone fishery.”..