Bay fish farm project back on radar

Image: Supplied.

The Algoa Bay fish farm project consultant confirmed on Wednesday night that the controversial Summerstrand site was back on the Fisheries Department’s radar.

Speaking at a public participation meeting at the Port Elizabeth city hall on Wednesday night, Anchor Consulting representative Dr Kenneth Hutchings said the department was pushing for a multi-prong option including finfish (yellowtail or kob) plus bivalves (oysters or mussels) to be farmed at the Summerstrand site.

If approved this option would further include farming at a second site north of the harbour and fin fish farming off Coega on the boundary of the SANParks marine protected area – which has been approved by cabinet but not yet gazetted.

The first phase of the project would be carefully monitored and it would only expand to commercial scale if environmental quality standards were met, he said.

The presentation was greeted with consternation by some members of the audience including one man who said people supported sustainable development but the Summerstrand site made no sense.

“We are one of the water sports capitals of the world and the department wants to stick a fish farm in the middle of the area of prime activity. That site must be scrapped.”

Another member of the audience questioned how many jobs for local people would be created.

“What is the department’s expenditure on this project and what are we getting out of it?”

NMU marine biologist Dr Shirley Parker-Nance said Algoa Bay’s shape and depth, its offshore islands and many other specific characteristics made it uniquely rich in terms of biodiversity which in turn supported important sectors like tourism and fisheries.

The department’s application, following on a previous effort in Algoa Bay five years ago which was suspended following huge opposition, was highly problematic, she said.

“You have embarked on a very expensive experiment you have never tried before. You do not know how many jobs will be created or whether the necessary private investment will be forthcoming.

“There is only one Algoa Bay. We need to check carefully how we choose to use it. You say you will step in if it’s not working but by then there may be nothing left.”

The project would not help jobless impoverished people, she said.

“This project is for big business to make money not for the little guys.”

Besides concerns about the impact on existing businesses, critics of the fish farm are worried that it will attract sharks and generate pollution from the high faecal load coming from the cages, antibiotics used to curb disease and detergents used to clean the cages.

Hutchings said based on the studies done so far, Anchor would be recommending that fish farming should go ahead at the harbour and Coega sites but not at Summerstrand.

His colleague Vera Massie said it was impossible to estimate jobs or possible direct and indirect revenue generation until species and operation scale had been finalised. The department’s Saldanha Bay aquaculture project was still in pilot phase and was based on sea trout so provided no immediate answers, she said.

One attendee  said he disagreed with the critics of the Algoa Bay application and that he did not want a repeat of the 2014 situation which saw the authorisation for the Summerstrand site withdrawn by the Fisheries Department after strong opposition and a formal appeal.

“These appeals are making us angry,” he said. “The people are going to benefit through construction, transport and restaurants which will be come because of this project.”

Oceanographer Dr Eckart Schumann, one of the leading researchers on Algoa Bay, called for strong onshore winds to be considered when gauging the possible flow of fish farm waste onto Hobie Beach.

Hutchings said the marine specialist report due to be published in two weeks time had not taken this factor into account and it was unlikely another study would be done.

Wildlife and Environment Society Algoa Bay chairman Gary Koekemoer said the National Environmental Management Act stipulated that local knowledge had to be considered in the environmental assessment of projects.

Koekemoer said the benefits and costs of fish farming in Algoa Bay needed to be considered against highly successful existing enterprises like Iron Man which included a swimming leg off Summerstrand.

He called for a sand flow assessment to be done to check if the fish cages would hinder the nourishment of bay beaches, and asked how the proposed fish farm would dovetail with the Marine Spatial Development Bill which was being discussed in Parliament.

Massie said their 800-page pre-application document comprising a basic assessment report and maritime archeology, marine and economic study reports would be published in two weeks time and made available to interested and affected parties for comment over a 30-day period.

After compilation of these comments, the consultant would submit a draft report to the Department of Environmental Affairs and open the process up to a further 30-day comment period, she said.

Further comments would be compiled as part of the final basic assessment report which would then be submitted to the Environment Department for a final decision.

 

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