The wild‚ wild Western Cape - where poachers are robbed by gangsters

23 August 2017 - 12:42 By Aron Hyman
Police raided a house in Blackheath and found 32,000 abalone being processed, after a tipoff by community members. File photo.
Police raided a house in Blackheath and found 32,000 abalone being processed, after a tipoff by community members. File photo.
Image: SAPS

Two men were arrested on Tuesday evening in Cape Town in a R10-million abalone bust.

Community members tipped off police about a poaching operation and officers who raided a house in Blackheath found 32,000 abalone being processed.

“The men‚ aged 24 and 31 years‚ were arrested and once charged the suspects will appear in the Blue Downs Magistrates' court on [Friday]‚” said police spokesman Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana.

A source at the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry‚ and Fisheries said the abalone were being dried at the “illegal fish-processing establishment” to make them easier to ship to eastern Asia. Once the abalone arrives at their destination they are rehydrated in fresh water for eight hours.

The source said poaching in the Western Cape is so rampant that between 800 and 1‚000 divers harvest abalone between the coastal communities of Rooi-Els and Die Dam every day.

Abalone is an endangered species due to decades of overfishing. This has decimated the stocks of the mollusc‚ which is considered a delicacy in countries such as China.

The source said poachers were extremely wasteful‚ even poaching abalone the size of a 10c coin. “It’s absolute chaos. There are a few guys that still want to do the [anti-poaching] job and other people just take their pay and that’s all‚” he said.

He claimed intimidation and corruption are rife among officials tasked with anti-poaching operations.

On the stretch of coast between Rooi-Els and Kleinmond‚ he said‚ there could be as many as 150 poachers a day with only eight officials on patrol.

Divers would go out together in the afternoon to swamp officials‚ who can only attend to one or two reports at a time.

The 28s gang was involved in the abalone trade now and often robbed poachers of their haul if a “protection fee” was not paid‚ he said.

“The divers are armed‚ but it’s more to protect the abalone from the other guys who are trying to rob them‚ because the 28s gang rob the guys.

“The last five cars [transporting abalone] which we caught here on the N2 all had firearms with them‚ they all had .45 calibre and 9mm handguns with the serial numbers filed off.”

Daff has been criticised for making money from the sale of confiscated abalone and the South African Revenue Service admitted to the Western Cape legislature that it does not know what happens to the money made at auctions.

Beverley Schäfer‚ chairman of the legislature's standing committee on economic opportunities‚ tourism and agriculture‚ accused Daff of being complicit in poaching because up to 50% of the Marine and Coastal Management budget comes from the sale of confiscated abalone.

“This could lead to MCM having a direct interest in maintaining the illegal abalone poaching‚" said Schäfer.

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