S.Africa divers risk all to poach marine delicacies for China diners

phys.org | 10/19/2018 | Staff
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One Saturday night in August, Deurick van Blerk, 26, climbed into his small boat off the coast of Cape Town on another of his illegal fishing expeditions. He never returned.

Investigators are looking into allegations by fellow divers and his family that he was murdered, shot by a special task force during an anti-poaching operation in an increasingly violent battle between South African authorities and illegal hunters of abalone shellfish and rock lobster.

Abalone - Delicacy - Hong - Kong - China

Abalone is a delicacy prized in Hong Kong, mainland China and elsewhere in east Asia, where dishes featuring the marine molluscs are coveted at wedding banquets and can cost thousands of dollars.

Illegal divers also search for rock lobster which is sold on the local market.

Deurick - Years - Cousin - Bruce - Van

"Deurick and I started poaching when we were 15 years old," his cousin Bruce van Reenen, 23, told AFP, struggling to control his emotions.

"Often we were fishing together, but that night we weren't. We went on separate boats, I went diving around the corner in Camps Bay and Deurick went to Cape Point for lobster that night."

Divers - Van - Blerk - Van - Reenen

Divers like Van Blerk and Van Reenen can earn hundreds of dollars for a successful night's fishing.

But it is a fraction of what the dried abalone is worth on the markets of Hong Kong, with prices reaching thousands of dollars per kilogramme.

Abalone - Stocks - Mid-1990s - Grave - Toll

Overfishing started affecting abalone stocks as early as the 1950s, but it was not until the mid-1990s that rampant poaching began to take a grave toll.

George Branch, a marine biologist at the University of Cape Town, told AFP that since commercial harvesting began, abalone stocks have been reduced to a quarter of what they once were.

West - Coast - Rock - Lobster - Percent

And West Coast rock lobster has dwindled dramatically to just 2.5 percent of its original population.

"Abalone is going almost entirely to East Asia, predominantly Hong Kong," said Markus Burgener of TRAFFIC, an NGO...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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