South Africa's marine environment, which extends along more than 3000 km of coastline, is rich in biodiversity with over 10 000 recorded marine plant and animal species.  Many of these species form the basis of our fisheries, including hake, anchovy, tuna, snoek, rock lobster and abalone which are commercially exploited along our west coast, and squid, line?sh and a wide range of intertidal resources on our east coast which provide an important food source and livelihood for many coastal communities. Our fisheries also support a number of recreational and tourism activities, such as recreational fishing, scuba diving, whale watching and shark-diving. Aquaculture (fish farming) is an emerging fishery.

According to government, the fisheries sector is estimated to be worth R6 billion per annum, directly employing about 27 000 people and contributing nearly 1% to our GDP.  The sector is however facing a number of environmental threats, most notably overexploitation, substantial by-catches, poaching, marine pollution, habitat destruction and increasing water temperatures as a result of climate change.

In response, South Africa is signatory to a number of international agreements and has a number of domestic laws in place that regulate the utilisation and conservation of our marine living resources.

  • The Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998 (MLRA) regulates the utilisation of marine living resources in South Africa through the management and allocation of fishing rights, prescribed fishing methods, protection of marine species and enforcement against illegal marine activities.  
  • The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 is a key regulatory tool for providing protection and conservation of ecologically viable areas representative of South Africa’s biological diversity. Currently 22 off shore marine protected areas are in the process of being declared under this Act which is critically important for the conservation of our fisheries.
  • Our fisheries are also protected under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004, which makes provision for the identification and special protection of threatened marine ecosystems and species  and the control of marine alien and invasive species.
  • The National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act 24 of 2008 (NEMICMA) is one of our newer pieces of legislation and was promulgated to establish a system of integrated coastal and estuarine management in South Africa.  Together with the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA),  NEMICMA plays an important role in protecting our fisheries and their respective  habitats by imposing a duty on all persons to avoid causing adverse effects on the coastal environment and by requiring an EIA and environmental authorisation prior to commencing certain listed marine-based activities. 

The promotion of our ocean economy is the first programme being rolled out under Operation Phakisa, an initiative launched by government in 2014 to bring about rapid economic transformation.  It is estimated that the development of the nine identified sectors of South Africa’s ocean economy could generate an estimated GDP contribution of 129 to 177 billion rand by 2033 and over 600 000 jobs. One of Operation Phakisa's critical focus areas is the development of an overarching, integrated ocean governance framework for the sustainable growth of the ocean economy, which has already brought about the release of the Marine Spatial Planning Bill and Aquaculture Bill for comment earlier this year, with more changes to the regulatory framework expected in the near future.