Fish farm plan flawed

Environmental watchdog tells Guy Rogers prime tourism jobs could be threatened by fish cages

PREMIUM


The new bid to establish a fish farm in Algoa Bay is fatally flawed because the detailed economic assessment promised by former Economic Minister Edna Molewa has not been done, according to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa.The chairman of the Algoa Bay branch of the society, Gary Koekemoer, said the study was vital and its omission because of insufficient funding, as stated by the consultants, was unacceptable.“It was meant to be done and it wasn’t. As a result recommendations have been made which could drastically alter the ecology of Algoa Bay and how we residents use it. It’s a fatal flaw in this project application.”Waves and winds are also one of the most important considerations when assessing a sea-based fish farm’s viability, a senior oceanographer has warned. (See report below)Together with the overarching basic assessment report on the project, the socioeconomic study was supposed to be done, in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, in the interests of ensuring the project was sustainable, he said.“Likewise the consultant is supposed to assess the project independently, with an eye to ensuring sustainability, not backing up the client.“If there was no money for the job, they should have called for more – and if it was not available, then they should have refused to do it.”The socioeconomic report was done by a team headed up by Rhodes University fish scientist Prof Peter Britz, who were sub-contracted by Anchor Research & Monitoring, who were in turn appointed by the fisheries department to assess their application for a fish farm in Algoa Bay.The report noted the shortcomings of the 2013 study of the fish farm project and referred in particular to the lack of a cost-benefit analysis – of jobs and revenue that would be lost if the project went ahead versus predicted gains.It continued, however: “A detailed costing of the socioeconomic impact of the [Algoa Bay] aquaculture development zone was not possible within the time and budget limitations, and thus a social choice trade-off survey was undertaken.”This survey took the form of interviews with 154 people on the Port Elizabeth beachfront done over a week in June 2016.The approach was taken despite the declaration from Molewa in 2014 when she upheld the appeals against the fish farm and the Algoa One site off Summerstrand that was initially targeted, and overturned the project approval by her department.The appeals by 28 different individuals and organisations were submitted on the back of a petition signed by 1,700 people opposing the fish farm.The continued lack of this cost-benefit analysis was key, Koekemoer said.“While the ‘likely jobs created’ assessment has been reviewed, and significantly revised downwards from 94,350 jobs to 1,265 the ‘likely jobs lost’ assessment has been replaced with a ‘social trade-off analysis’.”According to the socioeconomic report, the social survey found that about 40% would vote against the fish farm and about 50% would vote for it due to “the prospect of additional income and job creation”.Despite the survey, the consultant concluded that “the very low feasibility ranking in respect of the negative impact on the recreation and tourism economy mitigates against recommending Algoa One”.However despite this conclusion, the fisheries department had continued to push for Algoa One as a feasible site, Koekemoer noted.Anchor’s estimate of jobs ranging from 100 employees for a pilot phase operation and 1,265 for a full-scale operation was substantially lower than the figure of 94,350 estimated before the project approval was overturned – but the revised estimate remained questionable, Koekemoer said.“The consultant’s report does not go into detail as to how a pilot 12-cage operation [1,000 tons] would create 50 direct jobs and 50 indirect jobs, and what the nature/ level of those jobs would be.”The key piece of information that was missing, however, was the potential loss of jobs, he said.“If we are correct that fish cages will negatively impact tourism, open-water swimming and related events, and those events are lost to the city, what would the job loss be as a consequence?“The report fails to assess this impact.”

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