|27 August 2005
Salmon Farm in the Local Gansbaai News: Finally! Special Assignment triggers a response...
The article published in the 26th of August 2005 issue of the Gansbaai Courant (pages 1 through 4) entitled 'Special Assignment program ontstel' (unfortunately only in Afrikaans) has raised some interesting issues, and has obviously been written by a person who most probably has vested interests in the salmon farm, and whom we certainly cannot describe as an objective journalist. Special Assignment is a highly recognised and respectable journalistic television program and to criticise the people interviewed in the program based on hear say alone (none of the people mentioned have been interviewed for the purpose of this article) is certainly not a respectable thing to do. The author of the article is also attacking Michael Scholl, and states that Scholl knows nothing and uses old information, and is using the internet as a source of information. We are living in the 21st century and the internet is indeed a wonderful tool to find information and download scientific peer-reviewed articles and reports, especially when you live in a remote village such as Gansbaai. At first, we were considering writting a response to the newspaper, but then we thought that this was probably exactly the anticipated response, and our letter would probably not have been published anyway considering the position this newspaper has adopted. So we decided to respond (in english) on this web site for anyone interested to hear our side of the story.
To summarise the current farm issue, the farm is located within one of the most sensitive and important wildlife area in the world, only a few miles away from a permanent colony of 60'000 Cape Fur Seals on Geyser Rock, 200+ thousand marine birds, many of which are endangered, on Dyer Island, in the mating and breeding area for Southern Right Whales, migration route of Humpback Whales, in the path of four species of Dolphins and in the middle of the most important Great White Shark hot spot in the world. There is no example anywhere in the world where a fish farm has been established close to such a predator hot spot. Our main two concerns are: 1. Entanglement of wildlife; 2. Absolute lack of monitoring. The monitoring has been left mostly to the fish farmers, which is completely unacceptable and ridiculous especially for a 'pilot' project. Moreover, some of the management of the fish farm are clearly not environment friendly: one of the people has been campaigning for the reinstatement of seal culling, while another person is willing to pay for dead White Sharks. Moreover, Norwegian salmon is an alien species in South Africa and a luxury product.
To the contrary of what the article states, Salmon Salar Sea Farming representatives have been approached on several occasions by Michael Scholl, Wilfred Chivell, Craig Spencer and Hazel Friedman, but the response has always been either aggressive or in the 'no comment' format. Salmon Salar Sea Farming could have taken the time to sit down with any of these people to discuss matters, and present their side of the story, but instead refused to do so. So they should not complain about not being represented and shown in a 'one-sided' manner in the Special Assignment program. And we do not believe that the program was one-sided anyway... the salmon farm does not present any positive sides to it to date, and so the program could not show any positive sides: no job creation, no black empowerement, no monitoring, no transparency, no communication, no integration into the community, no contingency plan, etc... This is not one-sided, this is just a realistic view of the farm as it exists at present. SALMON FARMERS: STOP COMPLAINING AND START ACTING AND DOING THE RIGHT THING!
The continual referral to an E.I.A. or Environmental Impact Assessment by Salmon Salar Sea Farming and the authorities who issued the permit (Marine and Coastal Management) is a joke. There is no existing EIA for this venture in Gansbaai. The document that indeed exists is an Environmental Scoping Report, a report which summarises the potential effects and solutions of the farm. But a EIA could only have been produced during the pilot project, and only if proper independent monitoring was in place. We are not blaming the environmental consultancy company 'Doug Jeffery Environmental Consultants Pty. Ltd.' as they produced the best document they could with what information was available (except that there is absolutely no mention whatsoever about Sharks in the entire document). The main issues with the present farm are again not the environmental consultancy company's fault, but with Salmon Salar Sea Farming who did not take into account most of the recommendations and solutions proposed by Doug Jeffery Environmental Consultants Pty. Ltd. in their scoping report. The fault also lies with Marine and Coastal Management who issued a permit including virtually no conditions, which should have been taken in consideration on the advice of the scoping report. NO EIA EXISTS AT THIS STAGE.
According to Marine and Coastal Management, the monitoring has been left to the salmon farmers to conduct. This is absurd! How can monitoring be conducted by the same people who run the farm without prejudice? Monitoring must be conducted by an independent company with no vested interest and no agenda in the matter. Sure, the authorities have taken a couple, maybe a few, water and sediment samples over the past eight months, but is that really adequate monitoring for a pilot project of a new industry known worldwide for its associated problems? Certainly not! Salmon Salar Sea Farming and Marine and Coastal Management must stop hiding behind this absurd excuse that monitoring is taking place. ADEQUATE AND INDEPENDENT MONITORING DOES NOT EXIST AT THIS STAGE!
The so-called contingency plan to fly out a Natal Sharks Board 'specialist' to help with releasing any White Shark that might get entangled in the fish pen nets is simply absurd. Natal Sharks Board is located nearly 2000 kilometres east from Gansbaai, and it would take 12 to 24 hours before such a 'specialist' could arrive on site. But then, Natal Sharks Board's true speciality is to release dead White Sharks, so they might indeed be the adequate specialist for the job. The problem with entangled and hence immobilised White Sharks is that the flow of water through their gills stops and the Shark will very quickly die of asphyxiation. Why not use local expertise? There are several professional divers and certainly many experienced scuba divers in Gansbaai who are ready to jump into the water to help release an entangled Shark. Smoke screen? Most probably... they contingency plan is ridiculous and highly inadequate... Some Salmon Salar Sea Farming employees and managers have described themselves as 'poacher', 'seal and shark culling promoters', and even approached people about dead White Sharks which could fetch up to 100'000 ZAR. Not the best people to contact when you are talking about saving local endangered and protected wildlife or setting up contingency plans.
Michael Scholl was indeed charged with sabotaging the salmon farm surface infrastructure on the 30th of June by Salmon Salar Sea Farming... They charged me with this crime as soon as the fish farmers came back to shore from their interaction at sea. Little did they know at the time that two journalists from Special Assignment were present on board Lamnidae that day, as well as one American freelance cameraman. But the charge had been registered with the National Police and it was too late to retract their accusations. A few weeks later, the court dismissed the charge due to lack of evidence... Shame! It would have been very satisfying to go to court and present my three independent witnesses, who would have been much more credible than any of the fish farmers. Moreover, our visit to the fish farm had been recorded entirely on two different video cameras, so we had undeniable proof that we did not touch the farm infrastructure. Destruction of the infrastructure? Another smoke screen... Nobody needs to sabotage their infrastructure, the ocean is doing it at the moment (just look at the damage caused by the bad weather these days). Charge Mother Nature for sabotage! This is blatent defamation of character (Definition (1 / 2): Tort of making a false statement of fact that injures someone's reputation. When the communication is in writing, it is termed "libel". If made via the spoken word, the correct term is "slander". Statements accusing a person of having committed a crime are defamatory per se.), and we might take action against the newspaper in the near future, unless a public apology be published.
Incidently, a letter written by Johan van Dyk published in the same edition of the Gansbaai Courant on page 27 reads as follows (translation from Afrikaans): '...One interesting fact: For those who are interested in those kinds of facts, a snoek was caught last weekend near Hermanus. Its stomach was full... with pellets used at the salmon farm.'. Hermanus is located in the adjacent bay of Walker Bay, over 15 miles from the salmon farm in Gansbaai. And I thought that the salmon farmers maintained that there were no discharges from the farm... Food for thought!
The last paragraph of the article is entitled 'Greenpeace' and refers to the so-called expertise of Patrick Moore to support this salmon farming project. Patrick Moore was indeed a founding member of Greenpeace in 1971, and he was indeed director of Greenpeace for many years. But he has not been part of Greenpeace since 1985, over twenty years ago, and the termination details are subject to discussion: did he leave or did Greenpeace terminate his contract? Moore is known to abuse his status as a founding member of Greenpeace to give credibility and importance to his statements. Using Moore as an example to support the salmon farm and mislead the Gansbaai Courant readers to think that Greenpeace is supporting this venture is just beyond poor journalism. The following quotes, among many others, were found on the internet (indeed a great source of information in the world today):
"When asked why he started a fish farm, Patrick replied: 'To make money' " Jonathan Mayer, Fish Biologist and former employee of Patrick Moore
"Patrick Moore has gone from being the guard dog of the environment to the lap dog of industry" Tzeporah Berman, Greenpeace International
"I have read Patrick's book, Pacific Spirit. It is not the work of a 'forest ecologist' but a disappointing blend of pseudo-science and dubious assumptions being used to defend clear cutting and the forest industry." Monte Hummel MScF, President, WWF Canada
When Moore's employment at Greenpeace ended, he started salmon farming around Vancouver Island in Canada, and became president of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association in 1986. His venture into fish farming lead to serious financial trouble by 1991, and ever since he has been a spokesperson for the controversial British Columbia Forest Alliance, a timber industry front group. He also founded a controversial environmental consulting firm 'Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.' in 1991, and is an active supporter of biotechnology. Moore is definitely not the type of 'specialist' anyone would want to refer to as an unbiased and objective spokesperson. Among many other adjectives, Moore has been best described as an 'Eco-Traitor', and his money driven expertise is so outdated and unscientific that it is a shame to refer to him.
We are well aware that any new industry that can create jobs is extremely important in South Africa. This farm should be closed to set an example of what not to do, and also teach the government not to make the same mistakes. Both the government and the fish farmers are at fault here. We do realise that this industry could provide many jobs to South Africans. But we must keep in mind that tourism is a huge and non-negligible industry in South Africa also, and the marine ecosystem is extremely important to that industry (diving, whale watching, boating, cage diving, dolphin watching, kayaking, surfing, etc.), so we must be extremely careful not to jeopardise one industry for another. And in this case, the choice of the location is absurd, the lack of monitoring is outrageous and ignorant, the attitude of the fish farmers is ridiculous and rude, and the ineptitude of the government in charge (Marine and Coastal Management) is plain and apparent. This farm needs to be closed, so that future proposals for aqua-culture projects (there is unfortunately no doubt that this industry will get established in South Africa) can be dealt with properly and that the management of such ventures be monitored adequately and independently, and legislation be established and enforced accordingly. But this farm is a disaster and must be closed to set an example.