TROUBLED WATERS PART 5: Dissecting the PE Fish Farm Debate

BY MATTHEW COLLINS - DECEMBER 9, 2014

Plans are underway to build a six-kilometre Aquaculture Development Zone (ADZ), or fish farm, anchored in Nelson Mandela Bay – approximately two-kilometres off Port Elizabeth’s popular beaches.

Five zones were originally identified as possible locations before being whittled down to two after the local Port Authority said that two of the zones would affect shipping lanes and that the third was too far offshore.

Of the two remaining options, a site near Coega harbour was less preferred as it is located near a Marine Protection Area – leaving the site two kilometres off main beaches as the “preferred zone.”

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, along with the Department of Environmental Affairs, argue that the farm will stimulate and encourage much-needed economic development and job creation in the Bay area.

Tough opposition to the PE fish farm

However, much criticism has been directed towards such plans as it has been argued that the construction of ADZ’s will severely affect water sports, recreational fishing, whale-watching, sailing, scuba-diving and tourism in general within the Bay.

According to Michael Zoetmulder, Managing Director of Zsports Events NPC, the farm will have a profoundly negative impact on the water sports capital of South Africa.

“It’s my understanding that such a facility so close to the main bathing beaches could have a massive negative impact on our tourism and recreational activities. The beaches are our biggest tourism asset; I believe a fish farm will change this,” said Zoetmulder.

A number of concerned stakeholders in the Bay have banded together to create the “stoppefishfarm” website which advocates their view on the ADZ’s in recognising the possible negative effects that the farm will have on the Bay’s waters, as well as its users.

According to this website, the fish farm will attract sharks, creating a dangerous environment for swimmers and surfers (a classic example being the locals of Reunion Island, an island located east of Madagascar, blaming the construction of a fish farm on the coincidental increase in shark attacks off the island’s shores).

The water quality will also be affected by the fish farm as it will increase pollution within the water (due to the large quantities of fish excrement, leftover food, chemicals etc). Furthermore, with strong on-shore winds – which the Bay is notorious for – it means the pollution will, on an intermittent basis, wash up onto the beaches.

In making reference to an article on the Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism website, it is stated that “the potential negative impacts (of fish farming in the Bay) include… the loss of the Blue Flag Status of beaches which are internationally renowned.”

PE will lose hosting Ironman South Africa if the fish farm goes ahead

Ironman South Africa director, Paul Woolfe, in November told AFP that if the project goes ahead they will be forced to move the event to another city.

"One of many risks is that our athletes might be eaten by sharks, because the fish farm will lure bigger sharks to the Bay that are not normally there," Woolfe said.

"The area the project is envisaged for is where the athletes train during the night for the swimming part of the triathlon”, he said. "We cannot risk them."

He said Ironman SA had already been contacted by the cities of Cape Town and Durban about hosting the race. He claimed Port Elizabeth could stand to lose around US$8 million dollars in revenue if the race moved.

Well-known and respected beachfront-local and manager of Humewood Surf Centre, John Scheepers, believes that the intended location for the fish farm will be a disaster to the Bay in many respects.

Of all the above-mentioned issues associated with a possible fish farm being built in the Bay, Scheepers adds that the farm could affect the swell and, ultimately, break it up – therefore affecting wave-quality for surfers. This can have serious repercussions on the surf culture and tourist industry in the city.  

Perhaps another location for the farm?

Professor Nadine Strydom, a marine biologist with extensive experience in fish ecology as well as plankton ecology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), believes that fish farming, as a general concept, is “not a bad thing” and says that we have no way forward other than to start farming fish instead of relying on wild catches.

However, with specific reference to Algoa Bay, Strydom is of the opinion that the environmental impacts, along with the eco-tourism aspect of the Bay, have been grossly overlooked.

Strydom has said that it would be rather “foolhardy” to invest in a fish farm within the Bay, especially in the wake of an “imminent red tide”.

As is well-known, the Bay was greatly affected by a red tide last summer, which was seen as a new and unnatural addition to Algoa Bay’s ecosystem. As a result of the red tide, many fish perished at the hands of the phenomenon which draws oxygen from the water and suffocates fish.

“No insurance company is going to insure this fish farm,” said Strydom in light of the perceived threat that a red tide will have on a fish farm in the Bay.

In other words, a fish farm in the Bay has been argued to be a “financial risk” every summer because of red-tide threats.

Prof. Strydom, while not against fish farming in general, believes that the proposed fish farm in the Bay should have its intended location reconsidered.

Dean Biddulphs, a Nelson Mandela Bay Municipal Councillor, also told AFP that the farm was important for jobs, but should be built on land.

"If it's land-based, it's even more economical and cost effective," he said, adding that there was land available nearby.

Job creation and economic development

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Senzeni Zokwana, has said that a Socio-Economic Assessment (forming part of the Environmental Impact Assessment) has been conducted in order to determine the impact that a floating fish farm will have on Algoa Bay and has stated that the impact significance will be “medium with mitigation”.

According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Guideline for Aquaculture in South Africa (2012), the potential positive effects of aquaculture development include job creation, food security and the sustainable use of natural resources.

However, it has also recognised that potential conflict with the tourist sector, of the proposed location of aquaculture development, can be an issue.

Furthermore, the EIA has stated that “...the aim in site selection for aquaculture is based on the selection of an area that will be economically viable, socially acceptable and ecologically sustainable.

With petitions flying around the Bay in an attempt to halt any possibility of aquaculture development in the area, it can be argued that the location for this fish farm is declining in terms of social acceptance.  

Fears overblown

Rhodes University Ichthyologist Professor Peter Britz was quoted on zigzag.co.za in saying that fears of the fish cages increasing the possibility of shark attacks were “overblown.”

“There is no current evidence to suggest great whites will aggregate or increase in frequency around the fish cages or in the inshore bathing zone.”

What now?

To find a harmonious balance between tourism and economic concerns – with both ultimately being linked – it has been argued, particularly by Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, that a new location should be identified and utilised for the ADZ’s.

In doing so, the tourist industry can continue to flourish without fears of an over-industrial reputation infiltrating the Bay’s pristine beaches (which attract tourists).

Furthermore, the construction of ADZ’s can go ahead, and in so doing create more jobs and possibly have a positive effect on economic growth. It would be a win-win situation.

At the time of publishing this article, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality spokesperson, Roland Williams, was yet to reply to our enquiries on how the Municipality views the fish farm.

 

Caption: (Cover): Artist’s impression of what the fish farm would look like from the beachfront. (In article): A map of the proposed site for the farm. Images courtesy of: www.stoppefishfarm.co.za and www.zigzag.co.za

 

Read more on this story here:

Troubled Waters Part 1: Socio-Economic Impact Study of Algoa Bay Fish Farm Was Conducted

Troubled Waters Part 2: Algoa Bay Fish Farm now on NCOP and Bhisho Agendas

Troubled Waters Part 3: 100 Objections to Algoa Bay Fish Farm

Troubled Waters Part 4: 25 Stakeholders Engaged on Algoa Bay Fish Farm - Minister