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The shark exclusion net for Fish Hoek beach has been delivered, but its deployment is being delayed by the national Department of Environmental Affairs.
The City of Cape Town has requested a research permit from the department for the trial use of the exclusion net in the southern corner of Fish Hoek beach, but the department has insisted on an environmental impact assessment (EIA) being done for the net’s moorings – the first time such a requirement has been imposed.
Researchers say this decision could have a significant impact on the deployment of oceanographic equipment such as acoustic recording devices, used by scientists to monitor great white sharks in False Bay.
City officials have been talking to their counterparts in the department about the project since October last year and want to know why the department is taking so long to formally approve agreed decisions. But the department is in turn querying the accuracy of minutes of meetings where these decisions were supposedly made.
According to the city, it was agreed at these earlier meetings that the department would provide a research permit for the net to be deployed as a trial and it would also exempt the city from EIA requirements in terms of national environmental legislation.
But the national department now says this agreement is not reflected in the minutes, and that according to its Integrated Environmental Management Unit, the EIA regulations do not provide for such exemption.
Senior city environmental official Gregg Oelofse, who is leading the shark net project, told the department that the city had already taken a number of steps based on agreements they believed had been finalised.
But Dr Alan Boyd, acting chief director of research in the department’s Oceans and Coasts branch, replied that they were honouring their commitments: “It can be noted that matters were still in a basic planning phase even six months ago, with progress over the last months focusing on the technical aspects and consultations by the city.
Unfortunately, progress and meetings were, in general, not well documented…”Certainly the (department) is interested in the investigation of all possible means of reducing shark attacks whilst being mindful of our obligation to protected species and biodiversity. “In this regard, being regarded as a partner in the trial does not mean not meeting our legal obligations.”