A key component of the licensing condition attached to the rights granted to Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) to develop the Sandpiper project off the coast of Walvis Bay was that the company should conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, to assess the likely impact that the company's dredging activities on marine life including commercial fishing activities. The company is also obliged to spell out how it will mitigate for those instances, where there might be an adverse impact on marine life arising from its dredging activities.
In line with the Namibian legal requirements, the company commissioned an independent fisheries specialist, to conduct research on the likely impact of NMP activities on Namibia's commercial fishing industry. The appointment of the fishery specialist was undertaken with the knowledge and support of the Namibian fishing industry.
In his assessment the fisheries specialist concluded "The impact on Namibian fisheries will vary depending on the fishing sector. The operations of all fisheries will in some way, and at different levels of intensity, be impacted. Overall however the significance is considered to be negative and medium to low primarily because the area to be mined (annually up to 3 km2 and for the 20 year mining lifespan up to 60 km2) 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"
Even though hake is found throughout the Mining Licence Area (MLA), it is unlikely that hake will be seriously affected by NMP dredging activities. As stated in the fishery specialist report "Within the Mining Lease Area (MLA) the historical catch (of hake) is 0.86% or about 1% of total hake trawl effort. There are minimal records of fishing in (target mine areas) SP-1 and SP-3 but fishing has been reported in SP-2". In effect this means that the historical data show that in the actual area to be mined initially (SP-1) very little trawling has ever taken place. The target mine area is also close to the 200 m contour, an area which the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries has closed to fishing. The specialist report further states that if the area immediately outside of the areas proposed to mine are considered, the following is likely " Trawling for hake, although it occurs significantly beyond the MLA, is highly unlikely to be affected". 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 fisheries specialist also noted that " Hake (M. capensis) are found throughout the mining lease area" and that "we assume the abundance of hake in the MLA and surrounding areas is fairly uniform with higher levels of hake abundance in deeper water. Mining at the specific sites is therefore expected to impact on hake (in the broader MLA area) but due to their mobility hake will most likely avoid the mined area. This will result in displacement of hake biomass into adjacent areas, mortality is unlikely. From an ecosystem perspective this will have implications only in a localised context (we assume hake will avoid the mined area)".
With respect to juvenile hake, or hake expected to recruit to the hake fishery in deeper waters than where phosphate mining is proposed, "the distribution of juvenile hake (< 21 cm) occurs throughout and mostly shallower than the 200 m bathycontour. This is a typical distribution pattern for juvenile hake that recruit in shallow water and then migrate deeper as they age. Specifically juvenile hake are found in the MLA in the northern part near SP-1. Juvenile hake are expected to be displaced from the dredging area, but their mobility should limit the likelihood of mortality".
It is expected that based on recent historical catch and effort data in the MLA, 5.03% 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 explains.
Taking this and the other components of the EIA into consideration, it is the view of NMP that the company's 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%, without any mitigation measures in place. Once there are processes in place that figure will come down substantially, we are looking at a figure of 0,1% over a 20 year period," explains NMP project general manager David Wellbeloved.
The fishing study forms part of NMP' submission to the government.