Salmon Farming in Gansbaai

Something Fishy: Lack of Transparency

16 April 2005 - by Michael Scholl

Our investigation in the Salmon Farm off the coast of Gansbaai is continuing... However, following the article in the Cape Times of April 6, 2005, we have been contacted by numerous people in South Africa and worldwide supporting our battle against this new aquaculture farm that was established in December 2004.

The fish farm representative have made several false statements, and as far as we have been able to find out, here are the facts:

1. No EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) has been conducted for the present location of the Salmon farm;

2. No HDI (Historically Disadvantaged Individuals) / PDI (Previously Disadvantaged Individuals) are involved in the farm;

3. The present permit has a validity spanning several years;

On days we launch Lamnidae, we drive past the fish pens on our way to Dyer Island to inspect the pen in which 5000 alien fish are kept. Today was no different, but the fish farm rubberduck was very quick to respond, and here is a summary of the altercation:

Fish farmers (FF): "Stay away! We have told you before to stay away at least 200 meters from the fish pens" (they actually told us once before a week ago on one of our routine inspections)

Michael Scholl (MS): "There is no regulation or legislation in place that states this limit, and you have no authority in the matter" (on our previous encounter, they told me that the legislation was posted at the municipality, which is untrue - Such a provision would have to be published in the Government Gazette, and it has not)

FF: "Why are you here? What do you want? Go away!"

MS: "Nothing. Nothing. And no, I will not go away."

FF: "Go away, you have nothing to do here!"

MS: "You put this fish farm here, so I have something to do here!"

FF: "Go away! You have no jurisdiction here! What do you want? Can't we be civilized about this?"

MS: "I would like to see the EIA and permit for the fish farm and the legislation that states that I have to be further than 200 meters from the fish farm. Please give me your number, I will call you this afternoon when I return from sea and we can meet."

FF: "You have no authority to demand these documents. We do not have to show you anything. Stay away!"

MS: "You claim in the media to have all these documents, so I want to see proof"

FF: "We do not have to show you anything! ... But I can show you this! (Showing us his finger as he drives off)"

MS: "This is definitely the civilized manner to handle the situation!"

This is just one example among many others, in which the fish farmers and representatives have told people to mind their own business (but in a usually rude manner which we cannot present here). If indeed the fish farm had a EIA report or any other documents that give them the right to for example prevent anyone from approaching the farm, any reasonable person would make these documents available.

To date, I have approached the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marine and Coastal Management, Overstrand Nature Conservation and the Gansbaai Municipality, and nobody has been able to produce any document relevant to this fish farm.

Why would a legally established fish farm present such a lack of transparency? Why are so many people at Marine and Coastal Management and Overstrand Nature Conservation angry at not being consulted with regards to the establishment of the fish farm? Why was this fish farm approved outside the normal channels - Why was this permit approval issued directly from the Ministry and the Parliament level, instead of Marine and Coastal Management?

The conclusion of an aquaculture review written by Inka Milewski (Impacts of Salmon Aquaculture on the Coastal Environment: A Review) states in its conclusion that:

"...it would be appropriate for regulatory agencies to apply the precautionary principle to decision-making concerning expansion of finfish aquaculture in coastal waters and to mitigative measures on existing operations. This principle states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation” (Environment Canada 1996). Recognition of the gap in scientific information and data has led to the increased acceptance of the precautionary approach as a decision-making principle. The principle essentially favours erring on the side of human health and environmental protection rather than short-term eco-important element of international environmental law."

and a little further:

"Adopting this approach (i.e. precautionary principle) would mean that, with respect to all substances and activities associated with marine fish farming that are suspected of posing a serious threat to the marine environment, the absence of adequate scientific information would not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take maximum mitigation measures. This could include 1) a shift to closed containment systems; 2) restrictions on the use of pesticides; 3) restrictions on the use of acoustic deterrent devices; 4) use of moratoria; and 5) institution of comprehensive environmental assessments.".

South Africa is no stranger to legislations passed under the precautionary principle: In April 1991, South Africa decided to protect the Great White Sharks throughout its national waters basing their decision on the precautionary principle, since difficult to obtain scientific evidence was lacking.

The point here is that NO other fish farm in the world has been established so close to a predator hot spot (50'000+ Cape Fur Seal colony, 100'000+ marine birds on Dyer Island, 100+ Great White Sharks, 20+ Southern Right Whales, and 200+ Dolphins visiting the bay every year). Most studies have concluded that it is unreasonable to establish a fish farm anywhere in the vicinity of natural predators.

What we demand of the fish farm and the authorities:

1. Public access to all relevant documents;

2. That an independent EIA be conducted;

3. That an independent monitoring of the fish farm be established;

4. That a code of practice be established;

5. That the fish farm be under close and constant scrutiny by the authorities and an independent panel;

6. Independent observers must be present at all inspections or work around the fish pens;

7. All and any animals entrapped or entangled must be released as an absolute priority, and that all and any animals entangled and killed in or around the fish farm must be brought back to shore and reported to the panel and authorities;

8. In the event that the EIA report shows a non-negligible adverse impact on the environment or the wildlife, the fish farm must be closed immediately.

20 April 2005

Below is a letter from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in response to our complaint letter, sent on the 7th of April, about the total lack of lights or any other navigational beacons around the salmon farm. The salmon farm has indeed installed two very small and weak lights and two radar reflectors at either end of the farm within the past few days in response to SAMSA's warning, but these navigational beacons are still far from adequate to prevent any accident.

Salmon Farming in Gansbaai

Monitoring & Observers

01 May 2005 - by Michael Scholl

The past two weeks have been a challenge... The local newspaper published an article written by the fish farming company heavily criticizing me and the summary report as non-scientific, based on old facts and methods, and as a general liar and troublemaker. Moreover, I have also received numerous direct and indirect threats, some of which anonymous, to stop my battle against the Salmon Farm.

Don Staniford (Aquaculture campaigner - Friends of Clayoquot Sound) was very supportive in our correspondence and quoted Gandhi: 'First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, then we win.'

Am I giving up? Certainly not, but I have to stress the disappointment I felt due to the total lack of support from the local community. Only a handful of people have congratulated me on my efforts to protect the local ecosystem and wildlife, while making them aware of the potential problems involved with such an industry.

But I believe that I have discovered one of the reasons for the local silence and support for the fish farm: The fish farm company has offered very well priced investment shares to the locals, hence ensuring that whoever invested capital in this venture will of course want it to thrive. I thought that was a truly excellent idea, and it certainly seems to work. I am now among the least popular people in the area...

At the moment, Salmons are regularly sent to the University of Stellenbosch for testing and Marine and Coastal Management is conducting a monitoring project on the bottom sediment and water quality using samples. This is what I refer to as 'indirect monitoring', but one key element 'direct monitoring' is missing, and I am trying to convince the government to act swiftly.

With the current indirect monitoring that Marine and Coastal Management is conducting on the bottom sediment and water quality, I would like to see a direct monitoring, in the form of observers, to become effective without any delays. I consider this to be of the highest priority with the high number of White Sharks in the bay at the moment and with the upcoming Southern Right Whale season. Moreover, the attitude of the fish farmers is that the Shark and Seal populations are, according to them, too large, hence entanglement and killing of wildlife is not an issue. Great White Sharks, Cape Fur Seals, Southern Right Whales, African Penguins, among many others species occurring in the area, are protected in South Africa and listed on the CITES Appendixes. Therefore, the decision of risking the endangered and protected wildlife species has already been taken, and should not be questioned by the fish farmers.

The direct monitoring of the fish farm and workers through monitors would be part of the general directives issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) and Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) with regards to most fishery sectors in South Africa:

Provision for observers has been included in the 2005 Draft Policy for the Allocation and Management of Commercial Fishing Rights for the following fishery sectors: Hake Deep-Sea Trawl Fishery (Section 13), Inshore Trawl Fishery (Section 13), Horse Mackerel Fishery (Section 14), Kwazulu-Natal Prawn Trawl Fishery (Section 15), Patagonian Toothfish Fishery (Section 14), South Coast Rock Lobster Fishery (section 14), Small Pelagics (Anchovy and Sardine Purse-Seine) Fishery (Section 13), Demersal Shark Fishery (Section 12), Hake Longline Fishery (Section 13), Seaweed Sector (Section 13), Squid Fishery (Section 14), Tuna Pole Fishery (Section 14), West Coast Rock Lobster (Offshore) Fishery (Section 14), Hake Landline Fishery (Section 13), West Coast Rock Lobster Limited Commercial (Nearshore) Fishery (Section 13), and the Traditional Line Fishery (Section 18). Only four fishery sectors did not include any ‘observer’ section: Oyster Fishery, Kwazulu-Natal Sardine Beach-Sein Commercial Fishery, in the Beach-Sein (Treknet) and Gillnet (Drift-Net, Set-Net) Commercial Fishery, and in the White Mussel Fishery.

The paragraph related to the observer program reads as follows: ‘The Department’s current observer and monitoring programmes will be expanded to include compliance observation. In addition, the Department will progressively increase the observer of this fishery (and monitoring coverage of this sector). Right-holders will be required to bear the costs of the observer and monitoring programmes.

The 2004 Draft General Policy on the Allocation and Management of Long-Term Commercial Fishing Rights already included section 10: Observer programme - ‘On-vessel and shore-based observer programmes are critical to ensuring sustainable and recorded harvesting of fish stocks as required by law, policy and permit conditions. The Department’s current observer programme focuses on on-vessel and shore-based scientific monitoring and reporting. The Department will expand the current programme to include elements of compliance monitoring and reporting. It is intended to progressively increase observer coverage to as many full commercial fisheries as is practically possible. It is also the intention to introduce new methods of ensuring compliance such as on-board cameras. The Department will pass on the costs associated with managing and implementing the observer programmes to right holders. Details will be set out in the applicable Fishery sector policies. Further details regarding the cost of observer programmes to right holders in specific fisheries will be gazetted in the Government Gazette as and when necessary. The Department will require all fishing vessels to carry observers on board at all times while out at sea, if so requested.

I hereby must emphasize the importance of that last sentence: The fish farmers would need to carry one official observer on all and any visits to the fish farm to ensure that irregularities and wildlife occurrences be recorded and reported.

I hereby would like to state, to the contrary of what the local media have portrayed me as, that I fully understand that development is vital to South Africa. I fully support job creation and development, but not to the detriment of the ecosystem, hence, in the long-term perspective, to the detriment of the country. I am not fighting against the Gansbaai Salmon Farm for reasons other than the welfare of the local wildlife and ecosystem. I do not believe that the aquaculture of an alien fish species within an area known worldwide for its Shark, Whale, Seal, Dolphin and Marine Bird populations is responsible. The consequences for the fragile ecosystem, the endangered wildlife and, from an economical point of view, for the important and booming local eco-tourism industry could be disastrous. The facts summarized in the document I sent out to the media and various NGOs is based on scientific evidence from around the world, and moreover, Norway does not have the best of reputation with regards to conservation and aquaculture policies and regulations.

I am also very concerned about the relation between Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Management (NORAD), especially from a financial point of view: NORAD was one of the partners and financial contributors for the development, facilitation and establishment of mariculture industry in South Africa. Norway contributed an estimated R45 million in assisting South Africa's marine industry between 1994 and 2004. Moreover, I am not convinced that Norway really provides an exemplar partner for any marine related issue: the killing of Whales and Seals is continuing in that country despite international agreements. Norway is not an example for wildlife conservation or management, and as such should certainly not be called upon for any issues related to policy and legislation development in South Africa. Norway is indeed supporting South Africa’s development, but this financial help is not humanitarian in nature, but should rather be viewed as a business investment. Is there a relation for having granted a Salmon farming permit to a Norwegian company?