Overfishing In South Africa Greatly Worsened By Government Corruption, Research Finds

Overfishing of South Africa’s already overexpoited marine fish stocks is greatly worsened by government corruption in the region, according to new research.

The findings aren’t going to surprise anyone, but perhaps having it spelled out so clearly and succinctly in an official report will have some effect?


“When I interviewed inspectors they are surprisingly open about this. They tell me that they get a box of fish or just some money from fishermen in exchange for being allowed to break the rules that apply to protected areas or catches,” stated researcher Aksel Sundström.

One anonymous inspector was even quoted as saying: “A Chinese captain that was arrested last week called someone who arrived to the harbor with a wad of money. It is quite common … Imagine these boats, how much money they carry. And we earn so little … We can make resources of half a million rand disappear from the books. So the temptation is always there.”

Indeed, that is quite a blunt and honest admission. And given the situation, is such a reality actually a surprise to anyone?

The new research explores the difficulty inherent in limiting corruption with regard to the regulation of the “commons” — in other words, with limiting/preventing overexploitation of commonly held resources (fisheries, forests, water sources, other wild food sources, etc).

“Research usually says that regulations are promises of use of resources that can be monitored by the a state or by users themselves. This has been called ‘covenants with or without a sword’. But given that corruption is so widespread in many countries, there is a third situation, ‘covenants with broken swords’. In these situations the government inspectors are supposed to ensure that rules are followed, but due to bribery, resource users can pay inspectors to break rules,” stated Sundström.

Obviously such actions have an effect — the continuing decline of rhinos, elephants, and tigers, springs to mind, for instance. And the fisheries in South Africa of course.

“Inspectors in this sector clearly become part of the problem. Some act as informants and tips poachers in advance during joint police operations. And some inspectors are themselves engaged in illegal fishing! For example, while I was doing my interviews in early 2014 a police officer in the small city of Simon’s Town was arrested with illegal marine resources for over hundred thousand US Dollars in his freezer,” noted Sundström.

The openness of the corruption is perhaps one of the more interesting findings of the study.

“They are very open about how it is done. Maybe it’s a little easier to talk about this with an ‘outsider’ who can guarantee their anonymity,” stated Sundström.

“One should remember that many of these inspectors face violent repercussions from poachers if they do not allow them to break rules. So increasing their security may in fact decrease bribe taking. Many inspectors want to act honest but face pressure to be a part of corrupt affairs.”

Hmm. To my ears that may or not be true. It’s certainly a difficult problem. I’m not so sure that I hold out much hope for the survival of most of the worlds current fisheries — collapse seems inevitable in most of them. Which, considering that overfishing leads directly to jellyfish population booms, means that perhaps we can switch to eating jellyfish 20-30 years from now?

Though by that point, who knows if you’d actually want to eat anything that comes out of the ocean — even if commercial fishing is still viable then.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top