Fish Hoek beach. Picture: Ross Jansen

Cape Town - The Fish Hoek shark nets are ready and waiting, packed in a container near the beach, but cannot be deployed until the Department of Environmental Affairs issues the city council with a permit.

The City of Cape Town had hoped to have the nets in place by the start of the school holidays in December.

The hold-up centres around whether the mooring which will anchor the nets is an “anchored platform” according to the definition in the environmental legislation. If so, the city would need to do a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) before the department would consider issuing a permit. This could take up to 18 months.

Gregg Oelofse, head of the city’s environmental resource management department, said the Department of Environmental Affairs had written to the city on December 14 to say the city would need to do a full EIA as the department had determined the mooring was an anchored platform.

The city’s application for a permit to put up the nets would not be considered until the EIA had been completed.

The city maintained the mooring was not an anchored platform.

“The city approached the Department of Environment Affairs in Pretoria and requested on December 19 a formal clarification of their determination of what an anchored platform is and is not. No response was forthcoming,” Oelofse said.

On January 8, the city inquired again and the department then said how it determined what an anchored platform was.

“Based on that, the city then informed environmental affairs in Cape Town that we would bury the mooring blocks and therefore would not require an EIA as per the determination by (the department) in Pretoria,” Oelofse said.

“Environmental affairs in Cape Town then indicated that the permit application would be revisited.”

The city responded to follow-up questions from the department last week, Oelofse said.

“These nets are not permanent structures. They will be deployed in the mornings and retrieved in the evenings. This is no different from what the trek netters do – put them out and take them back,” he said.

The purpose of the nets is to give the public a swimming area safe from sharks. Oelofse has described them as a sort of “floating tidal pool”.

The city needs a single permit issued jointly by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Oelofse said fisheries had told the city last month that it supported the permit application

Environmental affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi said on Thursday that the department was finalising the permit application.

The nets, to be installed at the southern end of Fish Hoek Beach, are different from those in KwaZulu-Natal, which are designed to trap and kill sharks. The Fish Hoek nets are called “exclusion nets”, have a far smaller mesh, and are designed to be a barrier to sharks rather than a device to kill them.

The city has a policy not to erect the conventional shark nets, primarily because of the environmental destruction they cause when marine life becomes entangled in them. - Cape Times