Monday, 25 June 2012 11:03

Phosphate mining draws more supporters, opponents

Independent fisheries experts commissioned by Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) say that dredging will have a “negligible” effect on the national hake industry. Not everyone agrees.

NMP commissioned the experts to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) after receiving a licence allowing it to develop the Sandpiper project off the coast of Walvis Bay. The appointment of the expert was done with the knowledge and advice of the country’s fishing sector.

Overall, the significance of impact on the fisheries sector is considered to be negative and of medium to low significance because the area to be dredged over a 20-year period will be 3 km per annum, which is a small fraction of the overall Namibian fishing grounds. This fraction may, however, increase significantly if mining of this nature is to be expanded or alternative mine sites introduced.

"The anticipated negative effect will be negligible, if not non-existent," the report adds, according to New Era.

The Chairperson of the Hake Association of Namibia, Matti Amukwa, meanwhile, said Namibia cannot afford to risk its international reputation by jeopardising the future of both its fishing industry and the Benguela current ecosystem by rushing through the decision process on marine phosphate mining. The repercussions could be irreversible, he warned.

"We cannot afford to have marine phosphate mining negatively disrupting the environment, as that will reduce fish stock populations and the outcome would be cutbacks on Total Allowable Catches," Amukwa stated.

Only after thorough on-site data has been collected and analysed in a scientifically acceptable manner, he insisted, can credible assessments be made insofar as phosphate mining.

Barnabas Uugwanga of NMP met with Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Bernhard Esau and fisheries representatives and asserted that marine phosphate is so “harmless” that people can safely consume it, The Namibian reports.

“We had it analysed and put it in our mouths. One can eat it. It’s not poisonous,” he said.

The EIA report states that if the areas immediately outside of the zones proposed for dredging are considered, trawling for hake is highly unlikely to be affected even though it occurs significantly beyond the Mining Licence Area (MLA).

The fisheries experts assumed the abundance of hake in the MLA and surrounding areas is fairly uniform, with higher levels of hake abundance in deeper waters. The belief is thus that the fish will simply move away from the dredged area and thus the effect will be localised.

A similar conclusion was reached regarding the impact on younger species or hake expected to recruit to the hake fishery in deeper waters than where phosphate mining is proposed.

According to recent historical catch and effort data in the MLA, it is expected that 5.03 per cent of the hake trawl catch will be indirectly affected, meaning that the fisheries in this area will in some way have to adjust normal fishing operations.

"Based on these studies there is no reason to suggest that NMP activities and the fishing industry cannot co-exist," Patrick Morant of CSIR Consulting and Analytical Services concluded.

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