HAWSTON, South Africa (AP) — The coastal village of Hawston in South Africa is facing economic difficulties due to changes in the market for South African abalone, a highly prized sea snail in East Asia. The abundance and taste of abalone in Hawston attracted a high demand, which led to overfishing and a decline in the local fishing industry.
Raphael Fisher, who grew up diving for abalone, expressed his disappointment as the livelihood of many traditional fishers was taken away. The South African government initially banned abalone fishing altogether, and now strict quotas allow small operators to catch only 120 kilograms per year, which is hardly enough to sustain them.
The decline in legal fishing has led to an increase in illegal abalone poaching. A report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime estimated that the illegal trade of South African abalone to Hong Kong alone was worth nearly $1 billion between 2000 and 2016. Organized crime and turf battles over illegal abalone have overwhelmed coastal communities in South Africa, with thousands of young men being drawn into the trade.
The demand for abalone has also led to the rise of abalone farming as an alternative to wild abalone. HIK Abalone, a farming company, has millions of abalone in their farms, which are bred, fed, and eventually sold to Hong Kong and other markets. However, it is unclear what impact farmed abalone may have on wild populations, and the farms do not contribute to conservation efforts.
While authorities continue to enforce fishing quotas, there are signs of change and a more inclusive approach after a government-led meeting earlier this year. The involvement of local communities like Hawston is seen as crucial in finding sustainable solutions to the abalone crisis.
Raphael Fisher, faced with the ban on abalone fishing, found employment at HIK Abalone, which enables him to maintain his two small fishing boats. However, his job is now part-time, and he longs for the days when he could go fishing for the joy of it, not just for abalone.
The economic impact of the decline in abalone fishing is evident in Hawston, with abandoned boats and a broken-down harbor. The community is grappling with unemployment and poverty, which has contributed to the rise in abalone poaching. Fisher, like many others, remains hopeful for a better future, where sustainable fishing practices and community involvement can revive the once-thriving fishing industry in Hawston.