PRETORIA– As part of measures to strengthen the fight against the poaching of abalone in South Africa, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana has announced that all officials of the Fisheries Management Branch will be subjected to state security clearance and vetting.

Her announcement Sunday came following the arrest of nine fisheries officials from Gansbaai in Western Cape Province earlier this month in connection with abalone poaching. The officials allegedly colluded with abalone poachers by illegally selling back the seized abalone and escorting illegal abalone shipments.

The nine, along with eight abalone syndicate members, have been charged with racketeering, corruption and defeating the ends of justice. The case against all suspects has been remanded to March 14 for bail application and they remain in custody.

Zokwana commended the police for the arrest of officials, noting that as the department fights the syndicates, they need to ensure that no department personnel is found to be assisting the syndicates.

A first step towards addressing this challenge will be to subject all officials of the Fisheries Management Branch to state security clearance and vetting with immediate effect, Zokwana said.

She that the Gansbaai area, about 160 kilometres south east of Cape Tpwn, is one of the main abalone poaching areas, and poached abalone is generally smuggled out of the country possibly through highly sophisticated organized crime networks.

He added that the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries appreciates the need to have officials who are fully committed and dedicated in delivering on the mandate of the department.