"ON THE LINE" - EDITORIAL FROM THE FOSAF CHAIR - ILAN LAX
As I sit at my desk writing this editorial, the first spring rains have just arrived in KZN - a welcome, moist and cool palliative to the August winds and winter's dust and dryness. Upcountry, the veld is crisp and khaki after a fair bit of frost. The only green is the veld-fired new grass and growth and stands of evergreen plantations and other trees. The rivers and streams, although still flowing, are low and gin clear.
I found myself back at Snowflake cottage at the end of August, but this time for work rather than play. I saw many decent fish moving in the bigger algae covered pools. Despite an incoming cold front, many fish were rising and feeding quite vigorously. I'm sure the first decent rains will wash away that thick winter coat and open up the lies for the new season's growth. I'm told the opening weekend went well and many good fish were seen and tempted.
My work at Snowflake entailed helping the Aquaculture sector review its strategy and approach to the Aquaculture Development Bill (ADB). South Africa has a notorious tradition (going back to the apartheid era) of euphemistically titled legislation that often ironically does the exact opposite of what the name suggests. The ADB in its current form sadly follows in these footsteps. It fails dismally as a development instrument and serves primarily to enforce state control of the sector by duplicating the numerous existing permit regimes, creating a whole new costly administration and makes the right to farm fish or other organisms the subject of a time bound discretionary licence issued by the Minister. The obvious question remains: "If you already have all the required permits, why do you need a licence from the Minister to farm?" To date we have not received a comprehensible or sensible answer.
The link between aquaculture and trout fishing is an obvious one. Many venues rely on aquaculture for a regular supply of fish to stock their waters, especially for still waters. There is thus a need to ensure this supply. This is why FOSAF is a member of the Trout SA commodity group.
FOSAF's court application relating to the draft NEMBA AIS regulations and lists continues to find its way to finally being heard in court. All the required documentation has been filed and we are waiting for the allocation of hearing dates. We thank all of you who have continued provided support in whatever form. This is most appreciated and we would not have been able to tackle this matter without this support. As soon as we have any news about the hearing will be this will be shared with you all.
The other area of ongoing interaction with government relates to the strangely titled draft: "National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy". There has been much talk and rumour that this is in fact a Bill or a set of fishing regulations. Actually, it is nothing of the sort. FOSAF has for years advocated the need for an inland fisheries policy that recognises the value of these freshwater ecosystems and the organisms that depend on them. We have argued that these should be managed as holistic systems and that sustainable use and where necessary conservation must be integrated to ensure that these resources survive and in fact improve for the benefit of future generations. FOSAF made a submission on this policy emphasising our concerns regarding the harmful impacts of gillnetting.
We have recently ascertained that following public submissions and revision, the policy has been signed off by Minister Creasy and will now go to NEDLAC for discussion in that forum. We have requested that the revised draft policy be made available for public scrutiny. Once this is available FOSAF will request additional inputs from our supporters and if required make a further submission.
We often find ourselves surrounded by controversy in this country with so many (mostly reasonable) demands being dealt with so ham fistedly by those who know and are able to do better. At the same time, I am so often pleasantly surprised by the huge well of goodwill among South Africans, who finds ways to work together in spite of the naysayers to achieve remarkable results without much fanfare.
Our world produces enough of everything most people need to live a decent life, without further destroying our natural heritage and environmental capital. Our challenge is how to avoid and reduce waste, develop effective ways of using and re-using what we have produced and shifting our worldview that that reinforced our consumptive behaviour in an effort to satisfy our needs. We all know that if we can work together, we can change things for the better. The articles by Chris Williams and Leonard Flemming illustrate just two of these many positives that we should all emulate if we are to ensure South Africa's rich and vital natural heritage endures for our grandchildren's children.
Enjoy the new season's fishing. Yours on the line
SAVE the Vaal Environment - FOSAF/YWG partnership
In the Vaal's mid-section rests the unique and spectacular Vredefort Dome - the world's oldest impact crater and a World Heritage Site. The meteor impact aeons ago, unearthed the Witwatersrand gold vein and established the shock wave mountain ridges. This ensures that the Vaal River meanders and shoals, giving us such a variety of water types like riffles, runs and pools in the vicinity. This lends itself to a varied flora and fauna.
For us fly fishers this means that we especially find smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, each of which enjoy its own preferred micro-habitat within the river's system. In addition, so do barbel, barbs, tilapia and mudfish as well as introduced fish such as carp, Mozambican kurper and largemouth bass. Insect life is limited by pollution but there currently remains a variety of hardy mayfly and several caddis species as well as other flies and aquatic invertebrates.
Kicked off by F.M. Chutter, who first conducted regular scientific studies on the Vaal moogies and other fish in the 1960's and onwards, much research and surveys have been conducted by our major universities, the Water Research Council and independent scientists. SASS5 research shows that insects and fish are becoming increasingly sparse in their locales in the Vaal system due mainly to pollution. This is thus a highly threatened freshwater ecosystem in need of greater public support, legislative and administrative protection.
Interventions - Two decades of activism
The last twenty years have seen huge increases in sewage pollution on the Vaal. This impact was communicated to then Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF now DWS) and also to the Emfuleni Local Council (ELC). Only in 2007 did DWAF announce the building of a new sewerage infrastructure. But this was never implemented. The same occurred with ELC's sewerage works. Pollution thus escalated rapidly.
By the late 2000s SAVE had obtained 5 court interdicts against the ELC for illegally discharging raw/partially treated sewage into the Vaal. The infamous Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), a principal offender, had a Band-Aid applied to it. This insufficient short term action failed and led to the Rietspruit becoming the principal source of raw/untreated sewage into the Vaal River system with huge knock-on effects downstream.
In 2010 the High Court granted SAVE an interdict against the Ngwathe Local Council for its Parys sewerage works' pollution. SAVE also successfully appealed against a proposed mining extension close to the Vaal by the New Vaal Colliery.
In the late 2010s, the ELC's inaction led to a failure of their pump station system, dysfunctional WWTPs and pipe bursts. Meanwhile pollution in the Vaal reached crisis proportions. Save obtained court orders requiring the ELC and Municipal Manager to stop pollution forthwith and provide SAVE with their plans, budgets, time frames. The ELC disregarded the court order. In May 2018, the Sebokeng WWTP fails completely. The ELC cites 'vandalism' as the cause. 120 million litres of raw sewage flows daily into the Vaal via the Rietspruit. The ELC argued a lack of funds left to remedy this and are placed under partial administration. In July 2018 SAVE meet with the COGTA administrators and were assured remedial plans were in place. No action was ever effected.
In September 2019 the Human Rights Commission (HRC) launch an inquiry into human rights contraventions as a result of pollution. The HRC Report is still eagerly awaited a year later. in late 2019 the SANDF were deployed by the Finance Minister to try and resolve the mess. Some good work was done by the sappers till they too ran out of funds and had to stop. In early 2020, Ekurhuleni Water Care Company (ERWAT) take over the fiasco and request SAVE to allow a stay of execution until June 2020, to get things moving. ERWAT have not shown any progress and SAVE awaits a court date to prosecute those responsible. Although DWS has promised a R750 million public tender for rehabilitating the Sebokeng WWTP, this has not been advertised tender as legally required.
In recent weeks the Metsimahalo WWTP illegally disposed raw/partially treated sewage into the Vaal Dam and River via open trenches over farmland close to Denysville and Refengkgotso. R120 million was allocated for fixing this WWTP back in 2016. Nothing was done. This has also happened in Standerton and other built-up areas on our poor river. Save has maintained a major effective campaign over all this time on all forms of media.
SAVING THE CLANWILLIAM SANDFISH
It was in a 2013 sandfish presentation by Dr. Bruce Paxton at CapeNature head office in Cape Town that I realised I may never even get a chance to see this fish, never mind catch one on fly. The first time I read about a sandfish was in Dr. Paul Skelton's freshwater fish field guide when I was a teenager.
Subsequently, while searching for Clanwilliam yellowfish in the Olifants River a farmer told me how he had seen 'thousands' of migratory sandfish disappear from the Olifants River flowing past Citrusdal in the mid-1990s. I listened with much interest and worry. The worry grew more intense in the 21st century when I learned that these fish were considered extinct in the Olifants system.
More than twenty years after I saw a drawing of a sandfish in the field guide I finally laid eyes on a live one, thanks to hard field work by aquatic scientists from the Freshwater Research Centre (FRC) and CapeNature. They located and monitored two segregated, adult breeding populations in the Cederberg wilderness area; I visited one of the rivers in 2017 and could immediately tell that there were not many sandfish left ...
It was only when Dr. Jeremy Shelton (FRC scientist) took on the Saving Sandfish project in 2019 that many of the people, including me, that were deeply concerned about the survival of this species could finally stop stressing and take a breather - a Doring River survey in 2013 showed a sharp decline in sandfish numbers, and an absence of young fish indicated widespread recruitment failure, early signs of extinction and the reason for much concern. Jeremy and a team of scientists rescued over 600 baby sandfish at the end of 2019, fish that were guaranteed to be eaten by bluegills and bass, alien predatory fish that were the main reason for the failed sandfish recruitment in the Doring River.
The baby sandfish were stocked higher up in the Biedouw River catchment above a bass barrier and they will be monitored there until they are mature. This is also where I eventually (and finally!) caught my first sandfish on fly, after an epic emotional journey that I embarked on 25 years ago. I have since been targeting the odd large fish I've come across on the lower Doring and it's a super technical, hit and miss affair. Pure adrenalin pumping stuff placing a tiny nymph in front of a tailing fish and watching them swim over the fly to suck it up. If you get lucky by guessing the strike right (they seldom pull the indicator down), you get to experience a fight very similar to a large trout (some sandfish even go airborne, completely clearing the water).
It is an amazing large cyprinid, full value package on fly - which of our indigenous, large cyprinids aren't? Go find them; it is a proper treasure hunting experience in one of the most scenic places in our country. And once you've found Clanwilliam sandfish you'll realise just how fragile the population is and like FOSAF, you may want to throw cash at conserving them as well.
Read more about the sandfish here: http://frcsa.org.za/news/saving-sandfish/. The Freshwater Research Centre is a non-profit organization and donations towards the Saving Sandfish is much needed - contact Dr. Jeremy Shelton for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org FOSAF has provided funding to support this research project aimed at Saving the Sandfish. Please add you support!
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