The sudden and sad death of Minister of Environmental Affairs has resulted in a wait and see situation for the Federation of Southern African Flyfishers (FOSAF), who applied to the court to prevent the minister from implementing recent changes to the Alien and Invasive Species Lists and Regulations, which they believe could be the death-knell for the industry, The value of South African trout fishing is currently estimated at more than R1-bn per annum – about 11% of the R8.9-bn all facets of South African recreational fishing contribute, according to a recent academic study.

The FOSAF application is supported by a consortium of other interested and affected parties representing other economically useful species that will be affected by the changed listings.

“While the Minister was cited (in the court cases) using her name this was done in her capacity as the Minister, in other words as the office holder,” says FOSAF president Ilan Lax. “It does raise an interesting question, which may have been the late Minister’s reasons for her decision. Unless these have been reduced to writing we may never know.

“We shall have to wait and see who the new Minister will be and then we will need to ascertain whether the approach remains the same.  Given that the Minister usually acts on the advice of her/his officials and/or advisors we do not expect a different approach.”

Minister Molewa passed away just before the deadline for her opposing affidavits, and FOSAF therefore does not know on what she bases her objections.

FOSAF says the notices inviting public comment or objection on the proposed changes published in February 2018 are “fatally and materially defective because the Minister failed to properly advertise the notices, failed to adhere to the prescribed time limits and most importantly, failed to provide “sufficient information to enable members of the public to submit meaningful representations or objections”.

The proposed changes will not only be catastrophic for recreational trout angling, but also for fresh water aquacultute. Both employ thousands of people and generate over a billion rand in annual revenue

Re-classifying trout as an invasive species would mean that trout farming and the stocking of trout waters will become a criminal offence. According to the department, permits may be obtained to allow the farming and re-introduction of trout from trout farms to dams and rivers.

FOSAF argues that this will be virtually impossible as the NEMBA act only allows the minister to issue such permits under exceptional circumstances following extensive investigations. “There is presently no capacity and infrastructure in place in government to issue those permits and the skills required to undertake the necessary investigations are in short supply. This means that permits will be very difficult to get and that the application process will be very expensive and take years to complete.”

While these measures are set in place, they argue, “it will be a criminal offence to maintain the existing trout fishery or to operate the present 1800 tonne per annum trout farming sector. Billions of Rands of investment and jobs will be destroyed overnight.”

In May 1995 Cyril Ramaphosa – then an ANC executive member – told the Mail & Guardian that the state should support trout fishing, making more waters public and stocking them with fish, so that anyone can enjoy it. “My mission is to draw more and more people into this noble sport,” he said.

That was after his history making and shaping trout fishing outing with opposing negotiator Roelf Meyer during the heat of the constitutional negotiations.

More than twenty years ago trout played a role in the birth of the new South Africa … will it still play a role in the economy in twenty years’ time?