Most of Port Elizabeth’s surfers were not aware that plans had already been drawn to build a giant fish farm just a few kilometres off their local beach. A few caught wind of it on the final day of public participation in suggesting a suitable alternative location.
Should these plans get the green light, PE surfers are concerned that there will not only be an increase in shark activity and problems with water quality, but are questioning how it will effect the waves from coming into the Bay.
Dispatch journalist and Eastern Cape surfer David Macgregor filed the following report:
FEARS RAISED BY PROPOSED PE FISH FARM – by David Macgregor
Fears have been raised that Port Elizabeth’s reputation as the watersports capital of South Africa could be in jeopardy if a proposal to build a massive fish farm near popular tourist beaches gets greenlighted.
Although expert opinion is divided over whether the location of thousands of fish in specially designed cages a few kilometres from the city’s main beaches will attract more great white surfers to the area, local surfers say they do not want to chance it.
Kerry Wright, who runs a popular website called Millerslocal that focuses on surfing in the city, yesterday said she recently stumbled across the proposal when she was sent an email on the final day of the public participation to identify suitable places to locate a fish farm near the city.
“This was the first I’d heard of it, so was quite shocked when I followed the link provided and read the draft Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed aquaculture development zones.”
Although five zones were originally identified as possible locations, this was whittled down after the local Port Authority objected two would effect shipping lanes and a third was dismissed as being too far offshore.
Of the two remaining options, a site near Coega harbour was less preferred as it is located near a Marine Protection Area – leaving the site two kilometres off main beaches as the “preferred zone.”
Wright said the placement of adverts in local newspapers in early December last year were missed, as most people were already in holiday mode.
“None of the surfers I know had heard anything about it (and), none of my friends had heard anything about it.”
She said some stakeholders – like fishing, chokka, diving and yachting – were contacted directly, while tourism, the hospitality industry, swimmers, surfers and other water users were not.
Watersport events include the Ironman Triathlon – which involves a sea swim – and the Billabong Grom Games surfing competition.
“Should a fish farm adversely effect water quality along our beachfront, or result in an increased number/frequency of sharks in the immediate area, both these events could be at risk.”
Wright said potential problems included: an adverse effect on water quality from the “significant volume of fish waste and contaminants” from up to nine commercial fish farms, increased potential for human/shark encounters, and the possibility of whales and dolphins being caught in farm lines and nets used to contain the fish.
“The vast majority of surfers are in opposition to the idea.”
“No one is keen on the idea of surfing in fish poo and the potential for more sharks in our area.”
She said a poll on Millerslocal.co.za drew 595 objection votes and 11 supporting the idea.
Port Elizabeth shark expert Matt Dicken warned the fish farm could result in more great whites frequenting the area.
He said it was reasonable to assume the noise of thousands of struggling fish in cages and the smell of large concentrations of urine and excrement would attract more sharks.
“It also does not fit in with the drive to promote Port Elizabeth as the watersports capital of South Africa.”
Rhodes University Ichthyologist Professor Peter Britz said fears the fish cages would increase the possibility of shark attacks were “overblown.”
“There is no current evidence to suggest great whites will aggregate or increase in frequency around the fish cages or in the inshore bathing zone.”
Check out www.millerslocal.co.za for more, or updates on the developments surrounding PE’s proposed fish farms.