File photo: Reuters
File photo: Reuters

Victory for environmentalists as department dumps fish farm plan

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Jul 29, 2019

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Cape Town – In a victory for environmentalists, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has abandoned a significant portion of a proposed fish farm in Port Elizabeth.

The proposed fish farm in Humewood/Summerstrand came under fire by environmentalists, with the DEA confirming that concerns raised in the pre-application public comment period had changed their plans.

In 2011, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) launched an environmental authorisation application for an aquaculture development zone (ADZ) in Algoa Bay.

The DEA gave approval for the development, but on appeal in 2015 the DEA minister suspended the application, on condition Daff completed certain studies.

In March, Daff through their appointed environmental consultants, Anchor Environmental, held a public meeting and released a preliminary proposal for a new application.

This involved three sites: Algoa 1 (southern beaches), Algoa 6 (north of Port Elizabeth harbour) and Algoa 7 (off the northern beaches, between the Ngqura harbour wall and St Croix Island).

Both Algoa 1 and 7 were earmarked in the preferred option for finfish farms, and Algoa 6 only for bivalve.

Finfish refers to the farming of various fish species - such as dusky kob and yellowtail - in cages.

Bivalves refer to the culture of oysters and/or mussels on ropes/long lines/baskets which hang off surface boys below the water, and feed on natural phytoplankton.

The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) Algoa Bay branch chair Gary Koekemoer said the organisation found that Daff had not done the studies they had committed to, got several aspects of the bay’s economic and ecological environment wrong, and that commercial fish cages were not suited to the conditions of the bay.

“A key study that wasn’t done, but had been committed to was a socio-economic impact assessment of jobs lost vs jobs gained.

“The southern beaches are the main and preferred site for open-water use, but the perceived threat of sharks attracted to fish farms would have seen the stopping of the IronMan and various surf competitions.

“Also, the cages impact on the bay’s ecology via the effluent, antifoulant, antibiotics, and disease/parasite transfer to local reefs, and wild fish stocks would have been severely damaging and irreversible.”

Wessa in collaboration with a number of local organisations voiced their concerns, with close to 180 written submissions to Anchor Environmental, an Avaaz petition signed by over 3000 people, and a protest earlier this month.

A week later, Anchor Environmental released Daff’s draft ADZ application to the DEA, with the fish farm component for Algoa 1 dropped, and replaced with a reduced site application for bivalves only.

“Our concerns remain that bivalve farming isn’t without its negative consequences, and that northern beach users and the at-risk colony of endangered African Penguins on St Croix Island - the largest colony of African penguins in South Africa and the world - would both be significantly negatively impacted.

“We remain convinced restoring the Swartkops estuary will be a far better initiative for both the local economy and ecology,” Koekemoer said.

The process is to continue, with two public meetings facilitated by Anchor Environmental on Wednesday and Thursday, and will remain open for public comment until August 28.

DEA spokesperson Albi Modise said: “There has been no decision to scrap the finfish farming, but in the case of Aloga 1 (the Summerstrand site), Daff has considered the concerns raised in the pre-application public comment period, and have opted to pursue only bivalves at Algoa 1 (Summerstrand). Finfish is still being applied for at Algoa 7 (the Coega site),” Modise added.

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