SADSTIA’s scientific observer programme

SADSTIA’s scientific observer programme

Key to the Marine Stewardship Council Certification

The support by SADSTIA of an independent scientific observer programme is key to maintaining the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification of the South African trawl fishery for hake.

Scientific observers have monitored the activities of South Africa’s deep-sea trawl fishery for the past 21 years. The South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association has funded and supported the observer programme for the past 15 years. It partners with the service provider, CapMarine to train and deploy scientific observers and maintain a growing repository of information about the fishery.

What’s it like to work as a scientific observer?

Watch the video.

The data collected by scientific observers contributes substantially to the annual surveillance audits of the trawl fishery for hake that are conducted on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council. It is also vitally important for the demanding five-yearly fishery re-assessment process.

The South African trawl fishery for hake has been certified as sustainable and well managed by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2004.

Madoda Khumalo – Vice-chairman of SADSTIA

Observer data also plays a valuable role in the collection of biological data in support of stock assessments.

Scientific observers take a random sample from every trawl. This information helps scientists to understand the composition of the catch: the number of deep-water hake and shallow-water hake is recorded, and the proportion of bycatch species in the catch is estimated.

Catches of hake and the important bycatch species of kingklip and monk are carefully monitored and annual catch limits are set. Catches of other bycatch species, including horse mackerel, Cape dory, jacopever and angelfish are reported and monitored.

Scientific observers working in the deep-sea trawl fishery also measure the part of the catch that is not utilised for human consumption.

These “rattails” are a common bycatch species.

Scientific observers monitor the use of bird-scaring lines and other methods of mitigating seabird bycatch.

In the inshore trawl fishery, observers document interactions between seabirds and fishing gear.

Scientific observers document all interactions between the fishery and endangered, threatened and protected species – so-called ETP species, including marine mammals, sharks, skates, rays and turtles.

This Cape fur seal followed the trawl net onto a fishing vessel and was returned to the sea unharmed.

For one trawl per day, scientific observers sample the invertebrates that come up with the net, such as sea stars, sea snails, crabs, shrimps and sponges.

Once the data on invertebrates is captured and analysed, it contributes to conservationists’ knowledge about vulnerable marine ecosystems: areas of high biodiversity in the deep-sea that are prone to disturbance and have low recovery potential. If fishing captains know where these areas are, they are able to avoid them.

Over a period of 21 years, the scientific observer programme in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery has created a very big data set and a long time series. The programme has evolved to accommodate the changing requirements of the fishery.

Between 2017 and 2021, observers accompanied 6% of fishing voyages. The fishery is currently striving to increase coverage to 10% so as to meet the expectations of the Marine Stewardship Council and approach the degree of coverage that is standard in other MSC-certified fisheries.

Photos and video: Claire Ward © SADSTIA
Special thanks to scientific observer, Anzelle Reyneke; Melanie Williamson, Zonke Gumede and Rob Cooper at Capmarine; and the skipper and crew of Harvest Krotoa.

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