Fish farm comments open – for a few weeks

Environmental group questions short time to respond to report

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Concerned parties who want to comment on the 629-page study on the proposed new Algoa Bay fish farms have until the end of April to do so.
The basic assessment report by Cape Town-based Anchor Environmental Consultants details the department of fisheries’ controversial Aquaculture Development Zone plan, including operations at the highly contested site off Summerstrand.
The Wildlife and Environment Society of SA has questioned the time given to comment, considering the length of the report and that the period allocated overlaps with the Easter holidays and Port Elizabeth’s April 7 hosting of Ironman Africa – which involves many of the parties objecting to the fish farms.
“It is unreasonable to expect anyone to read this documentation and respond meaningfully in the given timeframe,” the society’s Algoa Bay branch chair, Gary Koekemoer, said on Tuesday.
According to the Anchor report, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries is pushing for a three-prong aquaculture option, including fin fish (yellowtail or kob) and bivalves (oysters or mussels) at the Summerstrand site, just more than 2km offshore.
If approved, this option would further include bivalve farming at a second site north of the harbour and fin fish farming at a third site off Coega on the boundary of the SANParks marine protected area, which has been approved by cabinet but not yet gazetted.
The department wants to start with a pilot 1,000-ton fin fish farm at the Summerstrand site, to be increased to a 9,000ton operation across the bay if the pilot is deemed successful.
The report marks a new effort to launch aquaculture in Algoa Bay after an initial proposal ran into heavy weather five years ago.
Then environment minister Edna Molewa approved a fish farm project at the Summerstrand site but then, in 2014, in the face of sustained opposition from residents, she withdrew her approval to allow for further research and alternative possible sites to be identified.
The 172-page basic assessment report prefaces nine appendices, including feasibility, ecological and socioeconomic studies, and a dispersion modelling paper showing the anticipated direction of effluent generated by the fish farms.
At a March 7 public meeting at the Port Elizabeth City Hall organised by Anchor to launch the new process, residents raised a raft of concerns, including that if the Summerstrand site was approved it could attract sharks and generate pollution from the high faecal load from the caged fishes, antibiotics used to curb disease and detergents to clean the cages.
Some residents argued that this pollution could be pushed onto beaches by the Bay’s strong onshore winds, jeopardising safe bathing for residents and Port Elizabeth’s status as a major watersports hub.
Others warned that the pollution would coat reefs and upset the unique natural balance in Algoa Bay and, as a result, the local fisheries, tourism and watersport industries, and called for the estimated jobcreation figure to be assessed against jobs that might be lost.
Still others called for a sandflow assessment to ensure that the fish cages would not hinder nourishment of Bay beaches.
Anchor representative Vera Massie released the basic assessment report on Thursday and noted that comments had to be submitted by April 30.
Massie’s colleague, Dr Kenneth Hutchings, said that comments received would be used to update the basic assessment report and a second and last public meeting would be held in Port Elizabeth thereafter.
The report can be accessed at https://anchorenvironmental.co.za and comment should go to info@anchorenvironmental.co.za

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