Answers on fish farms needed

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A proposed multi-site fish farm project for Nelson Mandela Bay, which sparked controversy when it was first planned years ago, has recently been revived.
This latest iteration has been met with many of the same concerns – among them the environmental impact and socio-economic losses that could result from such a project.
This became clear at a preapplication public participation meeting held by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) earlier this month.
At the time, The Herald reported that the department had identified three possible sites for fish farming: one off Coega, one near the Port Elizabeth Harbour and a third site off the coast in Summerstrand.
The consultants on the project (Anchor Consulting), who are tasked with compiling a basic assessment report to assist DAFF with the application for authorisation for fish farming in the region, advised that the department would more than likely apply for approval on a combination of these sites.
However, even the consultants have indicated that they would probably recommend fish and bivalve farming at Coega and the harbour respectively, but not at the Summerstrand site – as this particular combination would have the least negative impact.
Even so, according to the presentation, the department intended to apply to farm at all three sites.
If the assessment is to be taken as gospel, the benefits of this project will be legion.
However, as business and as the community at large, we are suffering from a severe lack of information.
Among the benefits listed in the presentation are the investment opportunities that will supposedly follow – particularly as the necessary approvals would be in place for investors.
This “approve it and they will come” approach sounds promising in principle, but what guarantees can be offered that these investments will in fact materialise?
Aside from this, we must evaluate whether the positive ripple effects of these investments will, in fact, outweigh the losses that could also result in tourism opportunities, cruise ships and other vessels coming to the harbour, water sporting events and the impact on the existing fishing industry.
In principle, the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber is not opposed to the development of a fish farm.
Our only possible objection to such a development hinges on the location of the aquaculture zones.
We believe any fish farm must be appropriately located, so that its aquaculture operations do not negatively impact tourism or another sector operating in Nelson Mandela Bay.
If all three proposed sites are given the green light, it is our fear that other industries and planned projects will suffer for it.
As an example, will the waterfront development – which has already been delayed until after the manganese facility is moved to the Port of Ngqura – still be as commercially viable if bivalve farms are brought to the harbour area?
Would the Bay still be the host city of the Ironman African Championship each year if the Summerstrand site is approved for fish farming?
Moreover, if the department expects job opportunities and skills development programmes to be the positive side effects of the project, will local residents and companies be the beneficiaries?
These concerns do not include the environmental impact that any fish farm would have on the marine habitat in which it is placed.
Stakeholders who attended the public meeting are worried about the pollution that could be generated by the fish farms – and, in turn, the effects of such pollution on the biodiversity of the Bay, a key attribute of our tourism offering.
The environmental consultants involved in the assessment indicated at the meeting that the first phase would be monitored closely, and the project would not continue if the environmental quality standards were not met.
This begs another question: if the pilot phase has too large an impact on its marine environment, what would it cost to reverse the damage already done?
The Business Chamber is not denying the benefits that the proposed project could very well hold for the metro and its people.
We are simply advocating for a full cost-benefit analysis – against current economic plans and the future economic development strategy of this metro to be completed and made available.
It is our hope that this, and more, information will be included in the 800-page basic assessment report, which will reportedly be made available soon for public comment on Anchor Consulting’s website.
As the Business Chamber, we call on all business leaders, local government (including the metro’s new tourism unit), residents and other stakeholders to make their voices heard during this process.
This project has the potential to impact each of our lives and livelihoods – let us do what we can to ensure it is a positive impact.

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