Whale watchers must watch for minister

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The most glaring oddity of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson's proposed changes to SA's marine resources legislation is that it appears to make whale watching an offence - unless the watcher has her permission.

Whale watching has boomed worldwide over the past two decades, and is a considerable revenue-spinner in the Western Cape. A 2009 study estimated that 13-million people went whale watching globally in 2008. Hermanus was pinpointed as a global whale watching centre.

"As at present, any member of the public, engaged in, for example, whale watching, would be guilty of an offence unless they had received personal permission from the minister to do so," said University of Cape Town mathematician Doug Butterworth.

Prof Butterworth is one of a group of 13 top academics and conservationists who have written to Ms Joemat-Pettersson asking for more time to provide considered comment on the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill. They include Rhodes University fisheries scientist Kevern Cochrane, a previous director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation resources use and fisheries and aqua culture conservation division.

Last week, the minister reduced the comment period from six weeks to three.

The clause to which Prof Butterworth refers says: "A person may not undertake commercial fishing, small-scale fishing, operate a fishing processing establishment or engage in nonconsumptive use as determined by the minister, unless a right to undertake or engage in such an activity or to operate such an establishment has been granted to such a person by the

Ministerial spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele said Ms Joemat-Pettersson "would not comment yet on the letter".

According to the Hermanus Whale Festival website, the town received over 100,000 visitors last year during the festival, held annually in September. There are, obviously, many spin-off benefits for the tourism sector, from restaurant trade to tourists adding other parts of SA onto a whalewatching holiday.

Written by: Sue Blaine

Picture credit: Business Day

  • This article was published on Business Day.