Efforts to limit the illegal trade have failed, as once abundant, the population of South African abalone Haliotis midae is declining at unprecedented levels. On average two thousand tonnes of abalone are bagged annually by poachers, in an illicit industry estimated to be worth at least US$60-million a year.
Seeing these results, TRAFFIC called for stricter trade controls on South African abalone and a listing of the species on CITES1, the Convention that governs trade in endangered, threatened, and at-risk species.
Led by transnational criminal networks and local gangs, the illegal abalone trade has been driven by socio-economic disparities in the Western Cape, contested fishing quotas, drugs, and gang violence.
Despite the very real threat that Haliotis midae could go extinct in case poaching levels increase, this species is not listed on CITES and beyond South Africa the trade in Haliotis midae remains unregulated.
That lack of regulation means that once abalone shipments have been smuggled out of South Africa to neighbouring countries, they can easily be laundered without fear of law enforcement action.
Namely, the report concluded to the following findings:
- World imports of Haliotis midae surpass legal production levels in southern Africa with the total mass of imports of H. midae from 2000–2016 being 55,863 tonnes, while only 18,905 tonnes was legally produced over the same period;
- Estimated traded volumes of illegally harvested H. midae have steadily grown since 2008;
- The illegal harvesting of abalone has resulted in the loss of a valuable commodity worth approximately ZAR628 million per annum;
- In-transit and market states do not have legal provisions requiring traders to show that abalone products have their provenance in legal fisheries or aquaculture operations;
- The increase in trade of dried South African abalone and the high value of the product, along with the presence of organised crime syndicates suggest that interventions and collaboration at an international level are required to address the illegal trade;
- Local initiatives needed to drive the poaching of abalone include multi-agency collaboration to encourage solutions that address the combined effects of social, political, and economic conditions surrounding the illegal fishery;
- International trade regulation in the form of a CITES Appendix listing is highly recommended.
TRAFFIC concluded by saying that:
These are almost the highest if not the highest poaching levels we have seen in the last 20 or more years. This is not just a fisheries problem. Many other agencies need to get involved to address the problem holistically.
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