“We will not let up on the pressure against illegal poaching and poachers, and will continue to confiscate abalone that is illegally removed from our oceans,” said Brig Donovan Heilbron, SAPS Cluster Commander for the Overberg.

This follows a week of high tension in Kleinmond after Clarence Drive was blocked by burning tyres and protesting poachers pelted motorists with stones. The blockade followed the arrest of five men for possession of abalone. Diving equipment was also seized. One man was arrested for public violence after the protest.

On Sunday, several shots were fired at poachers by a member of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) after a high-speed chase in Pringle Bay.

According to Heilbron, the DEFF member tried to stop a bakkie carrying poached abalone, and a chase and shoot-out ensued. The poachers fled with most of their loot in another vehicle after the member’s vehicle collided with the bakkie. One bag of perlemoen left behind by the poachers was confiscated.

Heilbron said the cases against the five men arrested last week would be handed over to a senior detective from the cluster. “We have decided to do this as some of the suspects are implicated in other investigations as well. By combining the investigations, we will be able to link the perpetrators to a number of illegal activities.”

He said that Operation Phakisa, launched late last year under the joint auspices of several departments, would continue at full force. “The members of the operation met last week to discuss the way forward and we are confident we will be able to apply continued pressure on illegal poaching activities.”

Last year DEFF said the presence of integrated teams consisting of border police, fisheries’ officials, nature conservation and local law enforcement officials had resulted in a noticeable reduction in poaching activities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on abalone poaching, with the ban on the use of beaches strictly enforced and very few illegal export opportunities presenting themselves, due to the world-wide restriction on travel and imports and exports.

Kleinmond Councillor Grant Cohen said he was planning a public meeting with all stakeholders for later this week in the fight against abalone poaching. “There needs to be a concerted effort to curb poaching by all sectors of society and we must send out a unified message that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable.

“We need to bring a sense of pride back to our towns and realise how fortunate we are to live here. For that reason alone poaching must be stopped. A march against crime is being organised for 25 October in Kleinmond and we will make use of that opportunity to say: ‘Enough is enough’.”

According to SAPS, during last Monday’s protest, poachers attacked SAPS members with stones and rocks and later blocked the road with burning tyres. Several vehicles were damaged, and people were injured. Daily Maverick reported that one of its columnists, Ismail Lagardien, sustained serious injuries when a brick smashed through his car window in the Overhills area.

In December the Western Cape Parliament announced that the South African Police Service would be reclassifying abalone poaching as a serious priority crime, classified in terms of Section 16 of the South African Police Service Act.

A recent report by TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors wildlife trade, says that approximately 96 million abalone were illegally harvested between 2000 and 2016 in South Africa. Most of the abalone ends up on the Asian market.

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