The Big Picture (examined up close)

Ian Cox gives an outsider’s look at trout in the Western Cape 



This is an article about the Cape Piscatorial Society, the Facebook group Water Warriors and the pollution flowing out of the De Poort trout farm in the DuToits Kloof told from the perspective of the trout value chain.

I am not a member of the CPS, and I hold no brief for the De Poort trout farm, or its owners Molapong Aquaculture, or its holding company Viking Fishing. Molapong is, however, an important player in Trout SA (the umbrella body representing the trout aquaculture industry in this country), as well as a significant part of the trout value chain both nationally and in the Western Cape. For this reason I have and do work for Trout SA and thus engage with its CEO, Krijn Resoort.

Though I occupy no official position in Trout SA, I am intimately acquainted with the work that is being done to advance the interests of things trout. Although my involvement in this pollution debate has been and continues to be a private one, I believe that much of what I say is broadly in line with the position of Trout SA.

These comments are my own.

On matters of perspective

Those who have followed my posts on Facebook around the issue will have gathered that I have strong views, which I tend to express forthrightly. It is therefore appropriate that I start by disclosing my perspective. Bear with me on this. I think it is important that I do so because so much of the environmental debate is ruled by perspectives and the conflicts that arise when these perspectives clash. My perspective is also pertinent to some of the observations that follow.

So let me start by saying I am not a conservationist. My beliefs around matters ecological are informed by the environmental considerations that are based on the principle of sustainable development that is core to the environmental right set out in the Constitution.

Now conservationism is an important part of sustainable development so let me explain when I say I am not a conservationist. For me a conservationist is someone who places the conservation of fauna and flora above other considerations. Conservationists in South Africa tend to place the conservation of indigenous fauna and flora at the forefront of their concern when engaged in managing matters environmental.

Supporters of sustainable development like me see conservation as one of a broad range of issues that have to be balanced in order to ensure an environment that is not harmful to human health and wellbeing. Thus it is not a case of being anti-conservation but rather the perspective one brings to bear in determining how conservation is balanced in the broader conspectus of what is necessary to sustain human health and wellbeing.

I am also not a bunny hugger which is to say I do not believe that fauna and flora have rights. We conserve the ecology of the planet to nurture a world that sustains human health and wellbeing rather than to save the planet. Indeed I think it is likely that the planet and its ecology will quickly forget the effects of human existence once we are gone. Bear in mind that Homo sapiens has only been on the planet for some 120 000 years or in other words 0.003.4% of the 3.5 billion years that life has existed on the planet.

You may well disagree with me and I respect you for that but it is a happy coincidence that my beliefs and the Constitution align. Strange but true!

I am also a lawyer so this analysis will inevitably be reasoned as a lawyer reasons things, namely by applying principles and law to facts. I will also express my opinions but will endeavour to do so in a reasoned way.

On matters of terminology

Dealing with what words means is one the biggest challenges in commenting on the regulation of environmental management in this country. Environmentalists existed predominantly in the activist space until very recently. This means that they tend to use language emotively to trigger reactions rather than technically in order to define a clear meaning. Of course environmentalists now operate at the epicentre of government and wield very considerable power. However the populist instinct remains, with the result that environmental officials often use terms that now have strictly defined legal meanings, to say something very different.

Examples of this are what are meant by the environment and invasive.

Environmental officials often use the term “environment” in its ordinary sense as meaning the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates or more frequently the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.

However the term environment means something very different when used in South African law. This difference arises because, as I have already mentioned, the environmental right is fundamentally a human right.

Thus when we speak of the environment in South African law we do not just mean what I call the ecological or ecology, namely the physical or ecological which is the land, water and atmosphere of the earth; micro-organisms, plant and animal life any part or combination of the above and the interrelationships among and between them. The legal definition requires us to look at these issues in the human or anthropocentric context of the physical, chemical, aesthetic and cultural properties and conditions of the foregoing that influence human health and well-being.

I paraphrase this rather dense definition of the environment by saying it is the impact ecological factors or the ecology has on human health and wellbeing. Environmental officials on the other hand often refer to the environment as meaning the complete opposite, namely the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.

This misuse of the term environment by environmental authorities is rather serious. I will deal with this in more detail later, but it underscores key differences between the fundamental values key to maintaining the health of our constitutional democracy and those which underpin the beliefs that inform the actions of South Africa’s environmental authorities. This is the major cause of the misalignment between current environmental thinking that FOSAF chair, Ilan Lax, and I have written so much about and this country’s Constitution, its values and indeed the rule of law.

This misuse of the term is also why environmental authorities insist that trout are invasive and why they find it so difficult to comprehend that the legal position is something very different. When environmental authorities look at trout they see a predator introduced into South Africa that preys on indigenous fish and other fauna. This is sufficient in their minds and in the minds of the scientists that advise them to make trout invasive. They do not consider that when the definition of invasive speaks of environmental harm, it does not mean the ecological impact of the species, but rather the threat that this impact poses to human health and wellbeing.

This inability to comprehend that the environmental right is a legal right governed by legal principles was highlighted at a stakeholder meeting in Pretoria in March 2014 when Dr Guy Preston referred to representations that Ilan Lax and I made in this regard as legalise or legal nit picking. Guy Preston is Deputy Director-General: Environmental Programmes in the department of Environmental Affairs (the DEA) and is the key figure in government trying to have trout made invasive.

And that brings me back (thankfully, many of you will no doubt say) to trout in the Western Cape.

On running a trout club

The tough jobs in running a trout club are usually managing riparian relationships, stocking waters, securing funds and justifying what you have done in this regard to members. South African trout clubs have a fifth challenge, namely dealing with ecological issues on terms where the club wants to be part of an environmental solution in circumstances where trout are viewed as part of an ecological problem by environmental officials.

It is not easy to align these sometime conflicting mandates on terms that make for a happy club that enjoys sufficient access to good fishing. However, by comparison, club committees elsewhere in the country have it easy when compared to the juggling act the CPS must engage in to keep things tidy.

The Western Cape contrasted

In most of the country land use is dictated by the riparian owner. These owners in the main see trout fishing as complimentary to their land use. There are diverse reasons for this but most are driven by socio-economic reasons. This is not to say however that trout fishing does not have beneficial ecological effects. The economic value trout fishing brings, for example, by way of increased land values, and a concomitant requirement that land owners protect the trout by mitigating the deleterious impacts of other land uses.

Good fishing in most of the country is also often dependent on stocking which means that trout have to be farmed for this purpose. Trout anglers must therefore support and encourage a viable trout aquaculture industry if they want to have trout fishing.

The fact that the presence of trout increases land values and that trout fishing requires that trout be farmed for this purpose underpins much of the value that reposes in the trout value chain. A club’s access to trout fishing outside the Western Cape depends on how adeptly its committee manages this space.

The fact of this investment in trout makes trout unique amongst South Africa’s fresh water fish species. The trout value chain is what it is because trout anglers invest in the trout fishery rather than merely exploit it.

This is not the case in the Western Cape or at least not nearly to the same extent. Though 40% of South Africa’s trout aquaculture production is located in the Western Cape, very little of this is used to stock the province’s trout waters. Nearly all of it winds up on the table as food as part of industry that sells approximately 1500 tons of locally grown trout into the market each year. This is only about 30% of the total South African demand for trout so there is huge opportunity for growth.

Most of the Western Cape’s trout waters are owned by the state and they are managed as nature reserves by CapeNature. Very little is privately owned and the kind of trout syndication or trout tourism venues you find in KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga are virtually unheard of in the Western Cape.

Very little of the trout waters of the Western Cape are stocked. The notable exception is the dam Lakenvlei (near the small fruit farming town of Ceres). It’s trout fishing is entirely dependent on stocking from trout aquaculture farms such as Molapong.

The ‘trout are valuable’ argument that underpins the justification of trout elsewhere in the country is not as obvious in the Western Cape.

Managing access to trout fishing in the Western Cape means that one must in large part keep CapeNature happy and that is not easy because the official albeit not legally justifiable position of CapeNature is that trout are an invasive or alien infestation which should be eradicated where this is at all possible.

Between a rock and a hard place – what to do with trout

The so called political win-win deal reached during the Phakisa Ocean Labs Conference, held in Durban last year, that trout would not be declared invasive where they already occur outside certain proclaimed national parks nature reserves and mountain catchment areas hits trout fishing in the Western Cape particularly hard given that most of the trout fishing in the Western Cape is situated in these reserves. Trout will thus be treated as category 2 invasive species in these reserves.

This makes the realities I described above particularly important in the Western Cape given that if you apply the law properly CapeNature must set about systematically removing trout from its streams. Environmental authorities such as CapeNature deny this but it is becoming increasingly apparent that these denials are not worth the paper they are printed on.

Justifying trout in the Western Cape

This makes for an infinitely more complex web of relationships that have to be managed by the committee of the CPS. These complexities are magnified by the contradictions that I alluded to earlier and on which I will elaborate further.

CapeNature’s attitude to trout is not that of the happy landowners elsewhere in the province who see trout as adding to the value of their properties. CapeNature, at best, sees trout as an unavoidable evil.

I say unavoidable because there are deep contradictions between what CapeNature says it wants to do and what it can in fact do. These contradictions go back to the misalignment I wrote about earlier between conservationist values and those underpinning the constitution and sustainable development.

I am going to enlarge on this theme as this article develops but let’s frame these contradictions by saying that CapeNature says that trout must be managed on the basis that conservation comes first. The framework law that governs environmental management in this country, namely the National Environmental Management Act or NEMA recognises that conservation is an important part of the foundation of what is sustainable development but says that environmental management must put the needs of human beings uppermost.

CapeNature would like to eradicate trout as an invasive infestation of the Cape Floristic region by an alien fish. They dream of the day when that might be possible. The difficulty is that it is not possible and they acknowledge that this is so. There are many reasons why it is not possible.

Trout aquaculture in the Western Cape is one big reason. The Western Cape is the centre of South Africa’s aquaculture sector. Trout aquaculture is an important part of that sector and the Western Cape economy. Trout aquaculture in the Western Cape is presently stream-based, that is to say that farming trout requires trout farmers to divert river flow through their trout aquaculture farms. As much as CapeNature would like to get rid of trout based aquaculture, it cannot do so. It is too big a contributor to the economy. The result is that although according to CapeNature alien fish such as trout pose the greatest risk to the unique aquatic biodiversity of the region, the Western Cape in fact has the most aquaculture friendly (or more correctly the least aquaculture unfriendly) laws in the country. The truth is that trout based aquaculture in the Western Cape contributes to the provincial economy and is a job creator. You mess with it at your peril.

Recreational fishing is an important leisure activity that contributes significantly to human health and a sense of wellbeing. Anglers are passionate about what they do and kick up a fuss when their fishing is threatened. What’s more they never give up. I often tell people that there is a reason why the Romans feared the apostle Peter so much going so far to stage an empire wide search to hunt him down. Peter was a fisherman!

There was almost no recreational fresh water fishing in the Western Cape prior to the introduction of alien fish like trout. To quote Dr Douglas Hey:

Owing to the dearth of indigenous sporting fish in the waters of the Cape Province, fisheries development has been based almost entirely upon the introduction and acclimatisation of exotic species. The first step was the introduction of Brown and Rainbow trout in 1890. These were successfully acclimatised are regarded to-day as our premier sporting and table fish. From the Stocking policies of the Cape’s Inland Fisheries Department The south African Angler July Issue 1948

So trout have been around for a long time though I must for sake of accuracy point out that the 1890 stocking he referred to happened in KwaZulu Natal. Cape waters were only successfully stocked in 1892 or 1893. The attempted stocking of the Eerste Rivier in 1890 failed.

Notwithstanding this, trout are still regarded as South Africa’s premier freshwater sporting and table fish. Attempts to get rid of trout will raise the kind of stink that could impact on the career of any official that makes the attempt.

I suggest that it is far better in these circumstances from CapeNature’s point of view to manage the problem over time rather than try and immediately get rid of trout. Dealing with the unavoidable evil which they see as trout requires that CapeNature finds a partner in the fishing community it can work with. The CPS has worked very hard to fulfil that role hence the close working relationship that exists today between CapeNature and the CPS.

Trout have survived in the Western Cape largely due to these efforts.

Happily there is also mutually beneficial relationship between recreational trout fishing and trout farming. Trout aquaculture farms in the Western Cape like to say that trout don’t escape from their farms. This claim is much easier to justify if there are already trout in the river next to the farm. There is also strength in numbers and the community of trout anglers bring numbers, including idiots like myself who devote hours of work at little or no remuneration to resolving legal issues that would otherwise cost companies like Molapong millions.

The quid pro quo from the recreational trout fishing side is that this linkage to what is an economically important industry gives recreational trout fishing a much stronger socio-economic rationale for its continued existence than would be the case if one had to assess the socio-economic benefits of trout angling in the Western Cape on its own.

If one is brutally honest, and I think brutal honesty is required when looking at situations like this, the small number of recreational trout anglers in the Western Cape and the value of the fishery pale into insignificance when compared to the value that reposes in the threatened Cape Floristic biome.

Note this is not to say that trout are invasive in the Western Cape. I don’t think they are. But unlike elsewhere in the country, the recreational trout fishery in the Western Cape does not fare too well if one applies the environmental principles set out in the National Environmental Management Act to the socio-economic and ecological contribution of recreational trout fishing by itself.

I think negative factors such as those I referred to earlier underpin trout’s continued existence in the Western Cape rather than positive ones. However the case for recreational trout fishing in the Western Cape gets much stronger if you add the socio-economic contribution of trout aquaculture to the mix.

The problem with trout aquaculture

But here is the rub. As was demonstrated more than 20 years ago in research funded in part by the CPS, (a 1997 PhD thesis by C.A. Brown titled Modelling and managing the effects of trout farms on Cape rivers) trout aquaculture in the Western Cape pollutes and if not properly managed has the potential to pollute very badly.

Happily the implementation of the guidelines that emerged from that research has contributed to the mitigation of the polluting effects of trout based aquaculture in the Western Cape during the last 15 or so years. The vigilance of the CPS coupled with a realisation by trout farmers that they must farm sustainably if they are to farm at all are major contributors to this improvement.

Thus Tim Rolston is able to report that pollution is not a problem on most of the rivers in the Western Cape below where trout are farmed. Indeed such has been the success of these efforts that I am told that trout anglers in the Western Cape pretty much take it for granted today that trout aquaculture farms won’t pollute rivers.

Ed Herbst will tell you that this was not always the case. Indeed he played an active role in the CPS’s efforts to expose and deal with the pollution caused by these farms some 20 years ago. He tells me that at the time the pollution from the hatchery on the Kraalstroom tributary of the Elandspad was so bad that the reek of ammonia assaulted the nostrils at the cave a kilometre below the junction of the tributary junction with the Elandspad. He recalls the upper Elandspad smelling ‘like a railway station urinal.’

Ed explained to me that in January 1993 all the trout in the earth pond aquaculture system at the Du Kloof Lodge (now run by Molapong) died during a heat wave and the hatchery manager simply disposed of them by opening the outflow and allowing them to float into the Smalblaar. It was an ecological disaster that was featured by Ed on SABC television news bulletins. The river ran black and stinking trout carcases littered the rocks for kilometres downstream.

It is largely due to the concerns raised by the CPS that the situation is now substantially better.

Pollution in the Du Toits Kloof

Sadly the story is not one of unmitigated success however as recent events in the Du Toits Kloof have indicated.

I have a professional interest in pollution caused by trout aquaculture farms as I was involved in commenting on draft norms and standards for the aquaculture industry that were circulated amongst stakeholders by the DEA for comment earlier in 2015. Ilan lax and I spent weeks drafting a response to those norms and standards. We suggested that the threat was overstated, that the proposed norms and standards were too harsh and would result in the closure of many trout aquaculture farms.

The news in October 2015 that trout anglers in the Western Cape were complaining of pollution caused by trout farmers on the Smalblaar was therefore a massive source of concern to me. I accordingly contacted Krijn Resoort of Molapong shortly after learning of these complaints via posts on the CPS Facebook page. That was on 7 October 2015. He responded the same day saying:

I am aware of it through Leonard who as chair of the CPS keeps me in the loop.

The Smalblaar River is a special standard river so we take it very seriously.

We communicate monthly with Cape nature and also have independent water quality sampling done (10 points) to check if and where pollution and of which type occurs.

In the past there have been some e-coli issues, which we showed through the sampling regime, had nothing to do with our farm, but with a residential development that had leaking sewage pipes.

We have found this year that the feed we used caused water quality problems on all our farms.

We have switched supplier since last week and have seen a dramatic improvement, which is something I am very happy about.

Tim Rolston published his video Killing a river on his newly formed Water Warriors Facebook page six days later on 13 October 2015. The purpose of the page was to draw public attention to the damage done to our waterways by the aquaculture industry in the Western Cape. He said this was necessary because nothing was being done. He wrote in his accompanying blog post that:

We have laid complaints and trusted that “things would be done”, we have endured endless excuses of septic tank overflows, coprophyllic otters, overzealous Tench, dam wall breakages, flows of human waste from the roadside and more. The turbid waters have been blamed on everything from ducks to mountain fires and yet the situation declines further.

The video was an excellent piece of dramatic filmmaking of the type that Carte Blanche has become so famous for. It showed shocking scenes of pollution that appalled trout angler and farmer alike. It achieved its desired effect of lighting fires all the way into the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DES).

However the claim that nothing was being done was less commendable. A great deal had in fact been done even by 9 October 2015 when this video was shot.

I have spoken to Krijn Resoort who tells me that what is depicted in that video is the result of a double whammy of the worst drought in over 40 years and problems which arose a as result of their feed supplier. I was told that their original feed supplier closed its doors last year and that while it was originally thought that the alternative feed that was chosen to replace it would be satisfactory, it transpired that this was not the case and that there would be a problem when the water flows contracted in summer.

The challenge was to find an alternative source of food which itself was exacerbated by the regulatory difficulties that come with trying to import fish food into South Africa. The solution was to get a South African supplier to manufacture an alternative before the pollution caused by the inferior food became a problem.

The drought made it impossible to meet this challenge. It in fact made things considerably worse as the farm now had far more fish in it than the water flowing through the farm could reasonable accommodate. This increased the severity of the pollution to what is depicted in the Killing a river video.

The short term solution was to deplete Molapong’s limited supply of imported high quality fish food which it usually used to feed brood stock on as stop gap measure until the new food became available. Molapong did this starting at its Du Kloof Aquaculture farm just below the Du Kloof Lodge and when it proved effective there the feed was used at the De Poort site as well. This food supply was changed to the new locally produced food when this became available.

These decisions were all taken as Krijn Resoort’s e-mail suggests in consultation with the CPS and the authorities well before Tim Rolston started his investigations. They did make a significant impact which Krijn Resoort promised as is apparent from Tim Rolston’s report published on the Water Warriors Facebook page on 20 October 2015.

Krijn Resoort has told me that a meeting about the above was constructive with Tim Rolston and Craig Thom in making helpful suggestions as to how the situation at De Poort could be improved in the future. However he is saddened that this constructive working relationship which he saw as being a useful, fresh perspective to how managing the trout farm could be improved soured because of the fact that Molapong could not meet the deadlines that were discussed at that meeting. He tells me that the reasons for failure to meet the deadlines were discussed with the authorities involved, who were also satisfied with the explanations.

Krijn Resoort tells me that remedial efforts are underway at the De Poort farm. These include the installation of a filtration system and limiting the use of the settling ponds to winter when the flow volumes are so high that the settling pond cannot work as such. He also mentioned the construction of the wetland that Tim Rolston and Craig Thom recommended though Dr. Leonard Flemming tells me that the terrain is too steep for that to work. The farm has also cut back to its summertime use of growing fingerlings which is well within the anticipated flows of the river.

Krijn Resoort says that similar concerns regarding the Du Kloof farm below the Du Kloof Lodge have also been addressed.

I am told by Leonard Flemming that the steps that are being taken to remedy the situation do not end there. CapeNature has notified the CPS that they would perform regular SASS assessments above and below the farm effluents to monitor the situation and that this will include a SASS5 assessment. I understand this is the most comprehensive test available for measuring the benthic effects of the farms. My sense is that everyone should be in a better position to work out a way forward once the results of those tests are available.

The Water Warriors’ complaints

The efforts of the CPS and others have not been enough for Tim Rolston who complains that the CPS is either not doing anything, or not doing enough, to address the problem of pollution. Complaints of such a nature are nothing new to anyone who has run a club. All clubs are habitually criticised for not doing enough. The response of those who sit on such committees is generally, to the effect that “this is not the committee member’s day job.”

There is a history of bad blood between the CPS and Tim Rolston arising from an earlier complaint of pollution emanating from the Du Kloof Lodge. This was apparently another case where Tim Rolston intervened publically and in effect took credit for achieving a solution that the CPS had been working on quietly and diligently for some time.

Tim Rolston claims in his post published on the Facebook Water Warriors site on 20 October 2015:

Although I have been criticized by some in terms of the previous blog post and the raising of the issue on social media, I think I am pretty safe in suggesting that without that pressure, and without your participation such progress as has been made to date would not have occurred. It certainly hasn’t over the intervening years when for all that time these farms operated without filtration of any kind and without apparent censure.

This statement is demonstrably untrue. Not only had the work at the Du Tots Kloof lodge largely been completed by the time he intervened, but the reason for the improvement in the management of trout aquaculture farms generally was clearly not the result of what Tim Rolston had been doing. It is the result of concerted cooperative solution finding on the part of trout aquaculture farms, CapeNature, DES and the CPS over decades. The claim that nothing has happened over the intervening years seems to be pure fantasy to me. I suggest that the following statement of Tim Rolston published on The Water Warriors Facebook page seems to confirm that this must be so:

The Lourens with a properly filtered fish farm, Crystal, the Elandspad properly filtered fish farm, Crystal, The Witte, no fish farm, Crystal, the JDT’s no fish farm, Crystal, and so on and so on.

So I dispute the accuracy of the statement that nothing has happened or that the CPS is doing nothing. It seem to me that the time and effort committee members have devoted to addressing this situation is considerable especially considering that this is not their day job. Proof of this can be found in the Society history which is available on its website.

The exceptional work that the CPS has done in recent years may be explained in part by the overlap between what the CPS is doing and the fact that what it is doing is part of the day job of its chairman, Leonard Flemming. Leonard Flemming is a director of the Wemmershoek Diagnostic Laboratory which offers specialist aquaculture health management services into the Western Cape trout aquaculture sector. He is also the driving force behind this. Molapong is a client of the Wemmershoek Diagnostic Laboratory.

Craig Thom has criticised Leonard saying that this amounts to a conflict of interest. I understand that the vehemence of this criticism has resulted in Craig Thom being censured by CPS. I was not party to those proceedings so do not comment on them. However do intend commenting on the criticism that Leonard Flemming is compromised by a conflict of interest.

I think this criticism is based on a misunderstanding how this principle works.

A conflict of interest arises in essence when someone’s loyalties are divided, forcing that person to make choices that unfairly compromise one or other position. Conflicts of interest are a fact of everyday life and have to be managed as such.

Leonard Flemming consulting to the Western Cape trout aquaculture farmers including Molapong could give rise to a conflict of interest. However you could say the same of the commercial interest that Tim Rolston and Craig Thom have in fly fishing. Moreover it isn’t just financial interest that gives rise to a conflict. Beliefs can do the same as can relationships. As I said conflicts of interest arise when loyalties are conflicted.

Not all conflicts of interests are undesirable and not all conflicts of interest give rise to legal obligation to avoid them. The interests of clubs such as the CPS often beneficially served by the private even private commercial interest of their members, even members of their committees. The relationship for example between the Durban Fly Tyers and Jay Smit and his J Vice is one such example. I suggest the nature of Leonard Flemming’s day job is another and it is not just around trout aquaculture. The contribution the CPS is making around the Gawie se water issue on the Witte River in Bainskloof which was the subject of a recent Sunday Times article, for example, would not be possible were it not for Leonard Flemming’s expertise.

One of the great challenges a club has is bringing people onto its committee that have the necessary expertise to make a contribution. One of the great advantages good clubs have is that they have access to this expertise. This means that clubs need to manage the resultant conflicts that may arise. Different rules apply as to how one does this. However a common thread in all these schemes the principle that conflicts are acceptable where there is informed consent. This normally requires a full disclosure of the nature of the conflict or potential conflict. That is why I for example started this article by disclosing where I am coming from. It is also why this article is so long. Transparency is a power antidote to conflicts of interests.

There has as far as I am aware been such a disclosure. Leonard Flemming tells me that he was invited onto the committee because if the expertise he has and the work he does. There is no secret about this or about the role he plays in the CPS. The nature of the services he offers is published on the Wemmershoek Diagnostic Laboratory web page. The work he does around trout both professionally and as part of the CPS is widely published. Google Dr Leonard Flemming and you quickly learn what he does and that the fact of this is widely known in the fly fishing and trout farming community.

I do not think that Craig Thom’s criticism has any merit whatsoever and I have told him so.


So there does not on the face of it seem to be any justification for the outrage expressed by Tim Rolston and Craig Thom. Yes the pollution shown in Tim Rolston’s video is unacceptable and yes he is to be congratulated for publishing it. But the matter ends there. The CPS seems to be on top of things. Leonard Flemming’s involvement seems to be a strong contributing factor as to why this is so. The suggestion that they are on top of things appears to be groundless.

This may explain why Tim Rolston’s complaints to the authorities are not receiving the outraged attention that they would like. It seems that the authorities are aware of the problem and are happy in the way it is being addressed.

But this nastiness begs the important question why? Now I know that “having a go” at each other is as much a sport in the Western Cape as faction fighting is amongst some communities in KwaZulu Natal but that still begs the question? What makes blokes like Tim Rolston and Craig Thom behave in this way?

I think we are dealing with another conflict. I think it is because we are dealing with a clash of beliefs between those that inform what the CPS is doing and those that inform Tim Rolston, Craig Thom and their likeminded “Water Warriors”. I think that this conflict in beliefs speaks to the clash between conservation driven beliefs and values on the one hand and those driven by ideas around sustainable development on the other.

This is a conflict that goes to the core of the fight to save trout. Though Tim Rolston and Craig Thom are passionate trout anglers they are first and foremost activist conservationists. That they are trout anglers second is demonstrated by the following exchange that that took place on the Water Warriors Facebook page recently:

  • Careful with this. We rent beats from some of the people that are accused of water pollution. We do not want to win the battle and lose the war


  • Please correct me if I am wrong (as I may well be), but isn’t the number 1 priority clean and unpolluted water?


  • …and still CPS water


  • To which Craig Thom responded: then the river must come before the fishermen

I think that the belief that the river must come before the angler lies at the core of the broedertwis we are seeing. I think we are seeing a conflict between this conservationist perspective and the approach adopted by the CPS which I would characterise as being more in line with principles of sustainable development.

I suggest that a sustainable development perspective is essential to the health and wellbeing of the CPS as well as the trout value chain. The successful management of CPS waters requires the CPS committee to maintain good relations with CapeNature and private landowners and tenants. The use to which those private landowners put their land may offend some trout anglers and even the committee of the CPS.

This does not mean that Tim Rolston and Craig Thom are not entitled to their views. I, for example, remember spending a weekend on the Holsloot grumbling that if landowners in KZN did what the riparian owners had done to the Holsloot we would send an impi around to disembowel them. It was tongue in cheek but spoke to my horror at what I saw there. I must say the grumbling made me feel good and still does but does not assist if you are a fishing club seeking access to what is privately controlled water! A more responsible approach would be to engage with the farmer and authorities around responsible land use.

The approach the CPS adopts in these situations is not to grumble, as I did, or to climb on its high horse and put the river first, or to publically out the polluter as a crook, but rather to engage with a view to bringing the polluter on board as part of a sustainable solution that preserves the river and the rights of trout anglers to carry on fishing that river. This is sustainable development 101 as the Constitutional Court held at paragraph 45 in the 2007 Fuel Retailer’s Case:

The Constitution recognises the interrelationship between the environment and development; indeed it recognises the need for the protection of the environment while at the same time it recognises the need for social and economic development. It contemplates the integration of environmental protection and socio-economic development. It envisages that environmental considerations will be balanced with socio-economic considerations through the ideal of sustainable development. This is apparent from section 24(b)(iii) which provides that the environment will be protected by securing “ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development”. Sustainable development and sustainable use and exploitation of natural resources are at the core of the protection of the environment.

This seems to be in broad principle what the CPS is trying to achieve. I have no hesitation in saying I think that it is in the best interest of the CPS and indeed the trout value chain. Indeed I must commend present and past committees of the CPS for staying in the saddle, so to speak and managing what is an exceedingly difficult horse.

I do not think that the conservationist agenda that is being pursued by Tim Rolston and Craig Thom and the manner in which they are seeking to pursue that agenda is serving the best interest of the CPS.

Upholding The Constitution and the rule of law

This is not the only reason I speak so forcefully against conservationist agendas that liken fellow members of the trout value chain to drug dealers who sell drugs to children.

I am truly worried that the views the so called Water Warriors espouse while ostensibly noble are in fact incompatible with attempts to conserve trout in this country or indeed the middle ground that will save us as a nation. I am becoming increasingly concerned (scared actually) by the extremity of views that are being expressed especially amongst the youth and the rise in naked and unapologetic demonstrations of xenophobia.

I accept and respect that when we deal in this space we are dealing with strongly held views many of which are as much a part of ones culture as Macbeth or the idea that one should not be cruel to animals. It is not my intention to question those values. Indeed I share many of them myself. However I do point out that we are a country which as a collective has proclaimed that our success as a nation depends on us finding unity in our diversity. We seek to do this in terms of a Constitution that proclaims a state operating under the rule of law in terms of a Constitution that guarantees rights and in particular the right to human dignity.

I suggest that we as a small and allegedly elitist community of fly anglers ignore this Constitutional call to find middle ground at our peril. I therefore cringe when invasion ecologists say that native biota is inherently superior or CapeNature or my fellow fly anglers say that conservation comes first above all else.

Thus while we may hold strongly to beliefs we must accept that our beliefs may not be universal or even widely held. I believe that the constant preoccupation of every South African must be finding middle ground that accommodates our right to health and dignity and underpins our health and wellbeing as individuals and as a nation.

I accept that this is a novel concept for most of us coming as we do from what are in very general terms the ranks of the oppressor or the oppressed. This makes our transition to the kind of country we will all like to live in particularly frightening as has been graphically demonstrated by recent events. The rule of law is widely acknowledged as one of the last formal bastions that still underpins our hope for that future.

Consequences of conservationist extremism

When groups like Water Warriors attack trout aquaculture farms like Molapong by likening what they do to dealing drugs to children and personally disparaging or attacking CPS committee members then they are firmly in the extremist end in the conservationist space. One cannot defend trout in that space. Indeed the rule of law disappears in that space with the result that one cannot defend anything, least of all human dignity.

The truth is that environmental officials are finding it increasingly difficult to defend the conservationist stance they have adopted as is becoming apparent from recent judgements of our courts.

We are a nation which is at its best when finding practical solutions to insoluble problems. A “boer maak ‘n plan” is one of our defining strengths. The prime example of this success is the country that emerged from the 1994 elections and the compromise that made this possible. On the other hand the practical management of ideological space which some other nations seem to deal with so effortlessly seems to be one of our weaknesses. The apartheid regime is one example of this failure. Attempts to incorporate ideology into government thinking since 1994 have been expensive failures. I suggest that the attempt to incorporate ideas around invasion ecology into government is one of those expensive failures.

The fact is that invasion ecology is unaffordable just as apartheid was. The public has not yet woken up to this yet but every local authority in the country must now formulate implement and report on an invasive species monitoring and implementation plan for each of the 559 species that have been listed as invasive and which occur in the local authority. They can and will be sued if they do not do so. The cost of this exercise is going to run into billions of Rands a year. South Africa does not have the billions to do this. No country in the world does.

Environmental officials pursuing a conservationist agenda have taken South Africa boldly where no nation has gone before without explaining to South Africans what they are doing or what are the consequences of what they are doing. They have taken a massive bet, I think, either that South Africans will accept the cost or that such will be the hold of officials over the daily lives of South Africans that ordinary South Africans will not be able to stop them. It looks like ordinary South Africans have just stopped the President so perhaps this bet will turn out to be a bad one.

If a “boer maak ‘n plan” defines our success as a nation then the actions of groups like the Water Warriors do not help. I say so because they diminish the space available within which to do this. They attack the constructive working relationships that have been established over decades that bind the trout value chain and in the Western Cape at least underpin much of the value proposition that is necessary to defend the presence of trout.

They also by definition undermine any attempts by other trout anglers and organisations such as the CPS to engage on a more constructive basis with other interested parties such as Molapong and even CapeNature. I am told that the De Poort issue is one example of this. Another is the harm this type of approach has done to efforts to improve the situation around the Du Kloof Lodge.

Furthermore and this may sound odd, but even attempts to redress the effects of pollution are undermined. The misalignment between conservationist beliefs in government and the principles informing sustainable development paradoxically creates space within which environmental defaulters can misbehave. This is because one of the consequences of undermining the rule of law as environmental authorities are doing is that laws become increasingly unenforceable.

Not every situation can be managed by the withdrawal of a permit. The DEA may wield huge power but the exercise of that power requires tact and skill lest the existence of those powers be attacked. That is one of the consequences that the DEA and CapeNature have had to face in seeking to eradicate trout. The trout value chain has begun to question the powers of CapeNature and the DEA. Indeed I do so in this article.

I think this is why environmental authorities prefer to engage constructively rather than resort to the law especially when dealing with someone who is environmentally significant. I think one can see signs of this in the distinct lack of enthusiasm evident in CapeNature’s response to the Water Warriors demands and its eagerness to cooperate with the CPS even to the point of making scarce SASS5 resources available.


These are the complicated waters that the trout value chain must navigate if it is to survive. I think the trout value chain is making good use of the cards it is playing with. The CPS has to play with a much smaller hand but is playing that hand very well.

I would ask members of the CPS and others to spare a thought for the committee and past committees of the CPS.  I am not a member of the CPS but I have served on sometimes even chairing committees of clubs and know how much work goes in unseen, unacknowledged and unappreciated in order to make a club work.

I am also aware of the current resurgence in the CPS due to the energy and vision that is being injected by young fly anglers. I think we have competitive fly fishing to thank for this and the investment over years by the likes of MC Coetzer, Louis de Jager and Maddy Rich. I also smell the kind of pixie dust that my mate, Gordon van Der Spuy, brings to the party. Of couse he swears on all that is holy, that his contribution is minimal and that it is the youth who are doing this. The CPS story is fantastic news whichever way you look at it.

What I see in all of this is a common purpose unpolluted by personalities or personal animosities. I think it is appropriate to say that some of the Water Warriors are mates of mine not to mention people who I admire. It is true that Tim Rolston’s tendency to argue by analogy rouses my inner pit bull like no one else but none of this is personal or at least not to me. I would enjoy a day’s fishing with any of them though I respect the fact that this may not be reciprocated!

The same is true of environmental officials. I don’t like what they are doing sometimes to the point where I wonder if they are not deliberately trying to destroy the country but that does not mean that I dislike them personally or that we should do so because we are trout fishers. Guy Preston who is spearheading the fight against trout is one of the most difficult opponents I have had to deal with in what is developing into a lengthy legal career. I have no doubt that he believes strongly in what he is doing, just as I strongly believe he is wrong. It is just that we are riding different horses. He, as an official driven by an invasion ecology perspective of conservationism, has put his faith in the power of officialdom and Ilan lax and I as lawyers put our faith in the authority of the constitution, principles of sustainable development and the law. The politicians, God bless them, suggest middle ground in the win-win that is the Phakisa agreement I respect and support this as does Trout SA and FOSAF who have thrown their weight behind making the agreement work.

Making that agreement happen, not to mention implementing it, presents enormous challenges for trout fishing in the Western Cape and for the committee of the CPS. Broedertwis is not going to make this any easier.

I suggest that the future of the CPA and trout fishing in the Western Cape lies in trout fishers being friends as fly anglers if nothing else regardless of their differences and in making friends with other parties in the trout value chain. Being friends does not mean being complicit in wrongdoing. Good friends speak the truth to the perceived shortcomings of their buddies but they do so in ways that find solutions rather than destroy friendships. That means that one must avoid calling trout aquaculture farms a bunch of drug dealers when they do something you do not approve of.