Smuggling Abalone into Namibia Could Harm Infant Industry

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Smuggling of abalone (commonly known as perlemoen) into Namibia has the potential of harming the infant industry. The only abalone farmer in the country, Rassie Erasmus, and Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, have warned that if this trend continues, it will cause enforcement challenges for Namibia, which has legal commercial aquaculture operations. Due to strict controls in South Africa, where abalone species are endemic, poached abalone is smuggled into neighbouring countries from where it is exported. A Senior Programme Officer of Traffic East/Southern Africa, Markus BÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼rgener, said in a press statement that recently, poached abalone from South Africa was smuggled into Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Namibia and exported to major destinations in the East. “Although no abalone species are either commercially harvested or legally traded through these countries, Hong Kong import data has revealed imports of dried and frozen abalone from all the three countries,” said BÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼rgener, adding: “Poached abalone is also traded through Namibia and this poses enforcement challenges since there are legal commercial aquaculture operations in Namibia producing and trading in perlemoen.” Erasmus attributed this to lax controls on the part of South Africa’s neighbours. “South Africa is very strict. Now they want to use Namibia as an escape route. Our harbours and airports are not tight, so they try to smuggle it here and export it out,” said Erasmus. Although it would be easier for abalone to be smuggled here and exported out, Erasmus said this would cause a lot of problems for Namibia, as there is interest from some Asian countries to invest in the industry. “It is very bad for potential farmers in Namibia. I know that the Chinese want to invest in mariculture, and if these things (smuggling) continue, the business will suffer. It will harm the country,” said a worried Erasmus, owner of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz Abalone. Recently, some people who were travelling in a vegetable truck were caught with smuggled abalone at Vioolsdrift, on the South African border with Namibia. A police officer at Noordoewer said it was suspected that the smugglers were bringing the perlemoen into Namibia. At the moment, wild species of abalone occur in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand but, due to the lucrative nature of the industry and the growing demand, Erasmus said there was always someone willing to pay more to have abalone on their tables. Namibia does not have wild species because its waters are too cold. Abalone needs temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius to breed. Namibia has between 13 and 15 degrees Celsius. The delicacy is so much in demand that Erasmus had received 500 e-mails from people looking for abalone when he started exports. Legal abalone costs US$39/kg (approximately N$280), while smuggled abalone can fetch US$70/kg (N$490). Traffic added that dried perlemoen could fetch as much as US$1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000/kg during the Chinese New Year, which occurs on February 18. Its meat is a highly-valued delicacy and is also considered to be an aphrodisiac in some East Asian countries, while its shells are used as ashtrays, soap holders and food receptacles. LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz Abalone started three years ago, and it exports to Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and China. The Japanese market, said Erasmus, is so huge that even full production of 80 tonnes would only satisfy one client. To curb the illegal trade, South Africa has listed its endemic species (haliotis midae) on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which requires all future consignments in international trade to be accompanied by CITES documentation. “The CITES listing has the potential to reduce illegal harvest and trade in this valuable and sought-after marine mollusc, and the South African government is to be congratulated on taking this initiative,” said the Traffic Senior Programme Officer. He said in South Africa, the continued illegal harvest has resulted in the total allowable catch in the legal fishery being reduced from 430 tonnes in the 2002/3 season to 125 tonnes in the 2006/7 season.

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