FOSAF NEWS - FOSAF Comments on Jeremy Shelton’s article “Trout in the fynbos – have they had serious ecological impacts?”

FOSAF congratulates Shelton on his article “Trout in the fynbos – have they had serious ecological impacts?” (see: “Flyfishing”, April/May 2015, Vol.28 No. 148; &


Unlike, some other recent publications of Shelton, this is a well balanced view of the situation in the Western Cape, which summarises recent studies that he has carried out on tributaries of the Upper Breede River in the Cape Floral Kingdom Biodiversity Hotspot.  Although some of the assumptions and methodologies used by Shelton may be subject to criticism, this must be acknowledged as one of the first detailed studies undertaken on the impacts in this country, of “how rainbow trout have influenced native fish abundance and altered the structure and function of aquatic food webs in fynbos mountain streams”.  FOSAF has for some considerable time been asking for such research, as opposed to hearsay, based on prejudicial notions about trout and their presumed negative impacts on SA freshwater aquatic systems.

It is pleasing to note also that Shelton appears to accept the concept of sustainable development, as can be inferred from his recommendations, although he does not actually say as much. Our law obliges us to look beyond the ecological impacts that are the subject of Shelton’s research, and in addition, to also take into consideration the needs of humans, their health and well-being.  This is in line with the policies of both the United Nations and the European Union.  Sadly, however, this is not necessarily a view that is always accepted by some purists, who do not appear to balance their concerns against the bigger picture of human existence and human needs, but rather choose to see people as the problem.

Shelton does not do this.  He clearly acknowledges the economic and social values of trout.  He states that “the expansion of the South African trout industry is both inevitable and important from a socio-economic perspective, and the key to mitigating future harmful impacts in our aquatic ecosystems lies not in constraining the development of the industry, but rather in guiding its expansion in a direction that minimises damaging new trout introductions”. This is to be welcomed as an important sea change[1] in the thinking of a representative of the environmental lobby in this country.  FOSAF prefers to speak of the “trout value chain” rather than the “trout industry”.  This value chain, created by the presence of trout encompasses trout aquaculture and processing (both larger scale and community based), recreational trout angling, retail trout-related tackle sales and trout-related tourism, as well as a means for rural communities to earn income by leasing out fly fishing opportunities on waters in their areas.  In addition, many trout fishing areas remain undeveloped thereby adding ecological goods and services to the value chain.

Shelton concludes by suggesting that “improved communication from both sides will go a long way towards achieving the most beneficial solutions.” FOSAF is also supportive of this suggestion and has said as much since it was founded 25 years ago.  It has been in regular dialogue with official bodies at both national as well as at provincial level during this time.  It has also had detailed discussions with other NGOs such as Trout SA and competitive angling, and will continue to engage as many players as possible, despite the considerable effort this entails.

The recommendations made by Shelton largely coincide with the balanced approach that FOSAF has been advocating for over twenty five years.  It is pleasing to note this support by a conservation biologist academic. Of particular interest is his statement that he believes that there is ample room to accommodate both native aquatic biodiversity as well as fisheries based on alien fish, in our montane fynbos streams.  This again coincides with the recommendations of FOSAF.

FOSAF does not believe in an “either or scenario”, but believes that it is possible to accommodate both sanctuaries for native aquatic biodiversity, as well as support fisheries based on alien fish species within our river systems.  This reflects the zoning system first advocated at the 1986 Grahamstown Trout Colloquium, and that FOSAF has continued to recommend since that time.

Dr W. R. Bainbridge

Chairman: FOSAF’s Environmental Committee.


[1] A “sea change” is a notable or an unexpected transformation.

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