Local whale watching and shark cage diving tour operators find themselves in financial distress as the ban on all charter fishing operations continues.
At this stage, it remains unclear when exactly the ban will be lifted, but businesses in the industry are hopeful that they will be able to resume their operations under Level 2 of lockdown regulations.
Albi Modise, the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) chief director of communications, says it is difficult to say when the ban will be lifted as this matter first has to be considered by the National Command Council.
“The decision cannot be made by one department alone,” he stated.
Even if the ban is lifted, a few other factors still need to come into play to ensure the future success of the whale watching and shark cage diving industry in the Overstrand.
In Gansbaai alone the shark cage diving and whale watching industry contributes an estimated R100 – R150 million in revenue per year, depending on the number of tourists who visit the area.
Wilfred Chivell, CEO of Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises which operate in Gansbaai, says this amount is just for the boats and excludes income for related industries.
“Studies show that many stay up to three nights in the area and up to 12 or more in the Western Cape. The daily spend is R4 000 or more,” he added.
Chivell says the industry relies largely on international tourists. He confirmed that 90% of the company’s client basis is made up of international tourists.
As a result, said Chivell, it will be near impossible for the industry to recover from the financial losses suffered since lockdown regulations and the closing of all South Africa’s borders came into effect.
“We have always encouraged South Africans to experience the marine world and we hope they will continue to do so, but without international support we will not see adequate recovery,” he stated.
The majority of the company’s work force has been left without an income or limited income as result of the lockdown regulations that have left the tourism industry in dire straits.
Chivell says the Marine Dynamics tourism hub that comprises shark cage diving, whale watching, a restaurant, accommodation, a curio shop, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust office and the volunteer/intern programme, employs 138 staff members, “which means there are 1 000 or more dependents reliant on this income”.
Hermanus Whale Watchers reports that the company has suffered losses of close to R2 million since the start of lockdown.
Hermanus Whale Cruises CEO Phillipus May says despite the whale season having started, they have not been able to employ any of their 20 staff members as result of the ban on charter fishing that is still in place under Level 3 of lockdown regulations. The whale season is from July to November when Southern Right whales visit our shores to mate and calf.
“Even though we haven’t been able to earn an income, we are still faced with overheads such as insurance costs. We applied for assistance from government but were unsuccessful. We’ve been through some really tough times, but it is nothing compared to what we are facing now.”
Unlike whale watching, shark cage diving is not limited to a specific season and provided employment throughout the year.
far reaching effects
It is estimated that the whale watching and shark cage diving industry provides employment for approximately 250 people in Gansbaai alone.
Several other businesses such as guest houses and restaurants in the area are however also dependent on business brought into the area as a result of this industry.
Chivell explains: “The value chain from the shark cage diving and whale watching is quite diverse and there is a direct impact on guest houses, hotels, restaurants, shops and more.”
Dyer Island Conservation Trust’s work is largely dependent on funding received from tourists and as result of the current state of affairs, conservation work done by Dict has also been impacted.
The team at African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary have however been able to continue their work throughout lockdown as it is considered an essential wildlife service.
“We have done penguin rescues and release, attended animal strandings and after the five week lockdown, have picked up on some of our research projects. However, our critical daily monitoring that we do while at sea every day, has been impacted,” said Chivell.
Roleplayers in the industry hope they will be able to resume operations as soon as Level 2 of lockdown is instituted. “This would still mean carrying less numbers on board the vessels and on premises with all Covid-19 safety protocols in place,” Chivell explained.
May is hopeful that their business will be able to resume in either September or October. “We have all the necessary measures such as masks, sanitisers and social distancing in place. A large percentage of clients are international tourists who have already changed their bookings to dates next year,” he stated.
hope for the future
Instituting measures such as allowing travel within the province, followed by interprovincial travel and the immediate reopening of the tourism industry, says Chivell, will provide a measure of relief.
“Ultimately we would need our borders to open if tourism is to fully recover. We will still feel the impact for the next year or more.”
DA MPP Andricus van der Westhuizen has called on the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, to amend the regulations so that charter fishing businesses can resume operations.
He stated: “Under the latest set of lockdown regulations, charter fishing remains explicitly prohibited. In the meantime, casinos are permitted to operate and taxis may load to 100% capacity. There is no reason why these fishing activities, which contribute to livelihoods, shouldn’t be allowed.
“An open boat with hygiene and safety protocols in place arguably poses a far lower risk than going to a gambling venue or movie theatre.
“The charter fishing ban has caused severe economic loss for the province as well as debilitating the livelihoods of those who depend on the industry.”