Sandpiper’s impact on hake under microscopeBy: ADAM HARTMAN
THE Sandpiper marine phosphate project off the coast of Walvis Bay will not harm hake fisheries, but could displace hake and result in fisheries having to adjust their fishing operations. This is part of a report by a ‘fisheries specialist’ appointed by Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) to investigate the impacts Sandpiper could have on the fishing industry.
To justify the findings, the specialist concluded that the overall significance was considered to be “negative and medium to low”, primarily because the area to be mined (60 square kilometres for a 20-year lifespan) is a “small fraction” of Namibia’s overall fishing grounds.
“Within the Mining Lease Area (MLA) the historical catch of hake is about one percent of total hake trawl effort, and that in the actual area to be mined initially, very little trawling has ever taken place. What this means is that small amounts of hake fishing have been reported in the MLA but very little inside the actual areas proposed to be mined,” the specialist stated.
The specialist further stated that mining at the specific sites is expected to affect hake “but due to their mobility” hake will “most likely avoid” the mined area. This will result in displacement of hake into adjacent areas, hence mortality is “unlikely”.
“It is expected that based on recent historical catch and effort data in the MLA, about five percent of hake trawl catch will be indirectly affected. However, this does not imply that this proportion of catch will be lost but that the fishery in this area will in some way have to adjust normal fishing operations,” the specialist explained.
Juvenile hake, which recruit in shallow water and then migrate deeper as they age, “are expected to be displaced from the dredging area, but their mobility should limit the likelihood of mortality”.
Taking this and the other components of the EIA into consideration, the company is of the view that “its activities can coexist with the commercial fishing industry”.
“There will still be a fishing industry long after NMP has finished dredging. There is no intention on our part to destroy the industry. Besides it would not make sense for us to destroy the industry. Our studies indicate that the negative impact on percentage terms will be between 0 and 0,5 percent over a 20-year period,” explained NMP Project General Manager, David Wellbeloved.
There are however serious concerns from a broad spectrum of Namibians and stakeholders regarding the impact of the project. The hake industry, which employs the majority of those in the fishing industry, believes that the project could severely affect fisheries, and even the Minister of Fisheries and Resources, Bernhard Esau, said during World Oceans Day earlier this year that there were still many “unknowns” and that in-depth studies had to be conducted to ensure the sustainability of the project with other important Namibian sectors.
Swakopmund Matters (SM), a local environmental lobby group, last week congratulated Australians on forcing the Australian government to prohibit a super foreign trawler in Australian waters until science and consultation could demonstrate it would not damage Australia’s marine life and fisheries.
Sandpiper by Namibian Marine Phosphate is a joint venture between Australian companies Minemakers Limited and UCL Resources Limited, and Namibia’s Tungeni Investments.
“Australians were justifiably and extremely concerned about a foreign company wanting to operate in their seas. We Namibians are likewise just as much concerned about foreign companies wanting to operate in Namibian seas. Thus, if Australians do not want foreign activity in their seas, Namibians equally want no foreign activity in their seas. Australians want to protect theirs. Namibians want to protect theirs,” an open letter by SM to the Australian people read.